It has become a tradition to speculate about the future of market research towards the end of the year. While most predictions take the latest achievements in technology and analyse their impact on research methodology, this article will take a different approach. It will start with the prediction of an upcoming postdigital era and then wonder about the role of market research in such a society.
The Postdigital Era
What does postdigital mean? Contrary to most people’s intuition, postdigital doesn’t mean non-digital, but exactly the opposite. It means that digital experiences will have become so normal and omnipresent, that we hardly notice the digital components of our experiences anymore. This becomes evident whenever the absence of digital functionality is more noticeable than it’s presence. It might be funny when digial natives, particularly small children, fail to use traditional media, because the usability is not intuitive enough. But then we have to acknowledge that for them “digital” is nothing virtual and new, but something as real and normal as the existence of written text or air to breathe. They simply do not expect that “dumb” objects without digital enhancement may exist.
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An important prerequisite of the postdigital era is that digital functionality becomes seamlessly embedded into the objects of our everyday life (e.g. household appliances, clothing, toys, etc.). On the other hand the lack of digital functionality will have a negative impact on the appeal of conventional products since they may feel odd and outdated. Therefore, sooner or later all major brands will have to think about ways to leverage the customer experience with digital services, whether it’s smart products, intelligent distribution channels or delightful user interfaces. We can already see the evidence for digital products replacing their analogue counterparts: digital publications are challenging the print industry and streaming is taking over the music market. Smart watches are on the rise and analogue television has become history in most countries.
Another important implication of the postdigital paradigm is the rising importance of purpose and sensory experiences. As the digital functionality of products and services will become more implicit, the perception of society is expected to shift back from merely being fascinated by the latest technology to the long-lasting and essential things of life. These can be basic needs like interacting with others, the quality of personal relationships, cultural participation in society, ethical consumption, beauty and aesthetics, individuality or self-actualization. In any case, digital products will have to solve real world problems in order to succeed and good design will have to address all senses, rather than just striving for digital effects.
This brings us to research in a postdigital society. It is obvious that our research topics will change. Especially the fields of customer experience, usability and sensory research will become more important.
Moreover, market research will get used to new data sources. Digital products do not only facilitate our activities, but they also always produce data as we use them. More and more devices will capture data with a wide range of different sensors. Near field communication, the mobile internet and cloud computing will ease the exchange and availability of data at any time and in any place. Finally, social media will help to put information into the right context and confer relevance to the data. While the research clients may allow access to some of these data streams, integrating and analysing them will become a bigger challenge for researchers. Fortunately, new methods of data analytics appear on the horizon as well. One way or another, the working routines of market researchers are about to change.
But what about our current research methods? They will probably not become obsolete, but will definitely change. As successful brands have to create new user experiences, this must be true for our industry as well when dealing with respondents. This argument sheds light on the importance of an excellent panel management or beautiful and intuitively usable questionnaires. If we keep these principles in mind, research will not be driven by the latest technology trends, but only the respondent friendliness of our methodology.
Do you think this scenario is plausible? And how are you getting ready for postdigital market research? Please let us know in the comments!