Cint weighs in: what does 2022 hold for the consumer insights industry?

Thought Leadership

This is the time of year when the market research industry looks into its ‘crystal ball’ to see which trends, technologies, opportunities, and challenges the coming year looks set to have in store. Here at Cint, we asked some of our team members, with boots on the ground in various locations across the globe, what they see on the horizon for consumer insights.

Our interviewees hold diverse roles and responsibilities and work from various locations in America, Spain, Sweden, and the U.K. They include:

With the market research industry continuing to evolve, at pace, these ‘respondents’ pointed to trends they are seeing in their markets as well as more broadly. Certainly, it’s true that the market research industry has had to pivot and innovate like never before. In many instances, this has created exciting new opportunities. So, we asked these professionals, among other things, which new approaches and technologies they believe will catch on and stick around in 2022, and beyond.

At least one common theme emerged: Technology was seen as a clear differentiator, with market research automation, in particular, heralding the potential to conduct market research at speed, and at the touch of a button. Marcus Ramberg, Head of Strategy and M&A at Cint, describes the innovation and opportunities that are arising in the market research industry as ‘one big test in agility’.

“These last 18 months have changed a lot of what was previously considered a given in our day-to-day lives. It has, of course, been a tough period with considerable despair, but it has also been a great catalyst for certain developments,” he says. “It’s hard to think back to a time when we were all working five days a week in offices and weren’t the least bit skeptical when entering a packed subway train.”

It does remain to be seen what the lasting impact on the consumer insights industry, and our lives in general, will be. Marcus continues: “Some of this is here to stay, which will leave a permanent mark on our industry, but equally I think there will be a return to ‘the ways things were’ – for instance when it comes to shopping preferences, and physical retail versus online.”

One thing that most of our interviewees agree is here to stay is an increased reliance on automation. For Marisa Stanley, Cint’s Head of Sales Operations, Americas, one of the perennial challenges in the insights industry is the need for speed. “We have prospective clients coming to us daily … because they want research faster and cheaper, while still maintaining the highest quality,” she explains.

Marisa believes that market research automation is the key to faster results at a higher value. “While everyone loves someone to reach out to if there are problems, the ability to give clients everything they need at the touch of their fingertips is ideal,” she says. “Automation drives productivity; allowing our clients the freedom to run projects at their leisure - collecting timely and actionable data.”

And she names, by way of example, Connect by Cint, which connects digital interactions with real-time surveying to explore audience segments in-depth and boost advertising effectiveness. She sees clients using the solution to gain a holistic view of audience members by connecting multiple data sources. “This provides so much insight that you cannot collect in any one survey. And this will also help customers make strategic decisions on their businesses that will ultimately help them to increase revenue and productivity,” she explains.

Looking beyond smart use of technology, Marisa says from an internal standpoint, she sees many being ready to socialize again after long periods of time working from home. “Personally I’m very excited to start traveling again; seeing my colleagues in-person, instead of via Zoom.”

Nella La Grotteria, Sales Director, Italy & France, echoes this desire for the return of ‘face-to-face’. She laments the disappearance of many physical meetings but again points to automation – combined with the right technology – as the key differentiator in the coming year.

“The main challenge, here in Southern Europe, has been the disappearance of face-to-face meetings which have always been considered key to success and to create business,” she says, “But we have learned the biggest lesson: We are much more advanced in the digital adaption and transformation journey than we could ever have thought.”

That said, she believes the market research industry’s main challenge remains understanding a complex, and often shifting, landscape and delivering ‘real-time’ research, ‘better, faster and cheaper’.

As such, and as we continue to adjust to a new normal, Nella believes – like Marisa – that the ‘DIY’ platforms available in the market today have given clients entirely new means of accessing quality insights. Given current constraints around physical meetings, too, she adds that many clients have embarked upon the journey of moving from offline to online much faster than they otherwise might have done. She describes this as moving ‘to click-of-a-button survey marketplaces’ and, once again, she adds that, while the industry continues to see clients moving research projects online, one trend that is certain for 2022 will be an increasing focus on ‘automation, through the right technology’.

“Technology has transformed the whole research sector,” she continues.

Nella also points to Connect by Cint™ as well as to work done around connected data, and data matching by integrating multiple data sources. “What clients are looking for is efficiency, to enable strategic decisions that increase their revenues and year-on-year growth,” she points out.

In part, this need for efficiency and growth is a result of increased pressure on the industry, says Andrew Jones. “The demand for consumer insights has never been higher. So much so that we saw an industry-wide constraint on U.S. sample. With all of us trying to adapt to our new normal, companies are rushing to keep up with changing landscape. I foresee this demand continuing and the need for unique supply to be a key challenge.”

This demand is one factor in the rise of market research technology that all our interviewees spoke about. Andrew has seen clients adopting new DIY solutions in order to save time and money. He believes this trend will spill over into qualitative research, which has been forced to pivot tremendously from a methodology standpoint.

He says that internal technologies have helped the Cint team adapt as well. “We’ve adopted Zoom for client meetings and Slack to bridge communication gaps. Both platforms, among others, will be here to stay. They’ve become a part of our day and really improve efficiency.”

Megan Springmeyer, Director of Customer Success, agrees that, for the internal workforce, the “proper utilization of Slack and Zoom are key, along with new features that have been rolled out.” Especially with a remote workforce with “many who are opting to continue working from home or working from home on a flexible basis.” She adds that another challenge being felt across the industry is employee retention. Retention strategies “need to be coupled with a smooth onboarding process for remote workers.”

Megan believes that “The past 18 months have opened opportunities to have tough but real conversations with employees and peers. It has allowed us to have both personal and career discussions where individuals feel heard. I hope that other organizations are experiencing that, and continue these conversations as we return to ‘normal’.”

Reflecting back on the past 18 months, a lengthy period of uncertainty, Megan adds that other critical challenges have been around adjusting to the shifting supply landscape, including periods of high demand and low supply. Continuing to educate customers on how to best design a study will remain critical, she says, adding that data matching and ad measurement are growing in importance, with new technologies looking set to emerge in these areas in particular.

“I am sure people are getting tired of hearing the word ‘automation’ – it surrounds us every day inside and outside of work,” she admits. “But automation truly enables us to work faster and smarter. Many of our clients are coming to us asking how we can help make them more efficient. Automation is almost always the answer.”

That said, Megan – like her colleagues elsewhere around the globe – misses chance meetings with colleagues in the office. This need for human interaction is something that Neil Fordham, Vice President of Supply, EMEA, emphasizes, too: “Returning to an office or co-working space, in a flexible way, and face-to-face events is something I hear more and more people asking for. It stimulates more innovation and knowledge share in a way that Zoom just can’t,” he says, stressing, too, that the customer experience will be increasingly critical to success.

In Neil’s view, passive measurement and connected data sources are more important than ever as consumers become less engaged with standard surveys and less willing to spend lengthy amounts of time taking surveys. “Clients still need robust data to inform their decision-making and at speed,” he says. “How consumers interact, get rewarded, and perceive how these technologies are using their data is going to be key.

“As everyone is competing more and more for consumers’ online attention, a consumer’s appetite for taking surveys is very dependent on the overall user experience…Clients will face increasing pressure to optimize the survey experience if they want to attract good quality and engaged respondents.”

Neil also believes that, while the pandemic hasn’t made it easy for any industry, or indeed any professional, it has been a case of ‘sink or swim’. “Within the market research space, the more technically advanced companies have definitely risen to the top,” he says. “You can see this in their year-on-year growth. At the same time, things are getting even more competitive and companies need to play to their strengths if they are going to survive.”

Whatever happens next, our interviewees all agree that the market research industry will continue to evolve, at speed. Thank you to our respondents for sharing their insights as we prepare for the new year; whatever it may bring. Here’s to 2022!