Whether you buy or provide research, one word is hard to avoid: Automation. There are three other words that are impossible to avoid: Faster, Better, Cheaper. All four make it very hard to keep the consumer at the heart of everything we do.

The last five years have been very tough for clients and agencies; in a good way. Zero based budgeting forced us to be more agile, find better value and deliver stronger impact, and with the demands from up high inside big businesses adding lots of pressure to the client-side teams with boots on the ground that had objectives to meet, we have seen a massive shift in how research budget is both justified and spent.

I am very lucky; I work with great clients who very early on in my career taught me how important the consumer is, and as our careers have grown together and the functions we work in have developed, one thing has never been lost – the consumer is king.

There have been challenges. Automated surveying landed pretty quickly on the industry and definitely has its place. One client I was speaking with helped me understand the value; she said that when you have very little budget and you have to make a decision, it can be the difference between you getting it right or getting it wrong. Yes, a rigid consumer product test would be better, but when that can’t be achieved, automated platforms provide a good solution.

What was agreed is that automated surveys aren’t a human experience, and to gain true insight, we need to discover the real feelings behind consumers decisions – how products and services improve their lives in a way that builds brand relationships.

So with this in mind, we need to agree on how insightful the automated platforms can be, because we will eventually dilute the word ‘insight’. It is massively overused. I recently saw a report (not a Blue Yonder one!) that listed the fact that Amazon buyers can be swayed by bad reviews as an insight! There has to be a distinction between information/basic logic and new undiscovered valuable learnings, which is how I define an insight.

There are responsible ways of achieving faster, better, cheaper, whilst keeping the consumer central to your research. Digital tools are achieving faster fieldwork and results, in some cases they can also be cheaper, particularly on global projects where significant savings can be made on travel alone. But I have yet to see a stand-alone automated solution that can make a research project better than an insights professional. If we look at this from the consumers perspective, migration to digital tools will be easier for them with human interaction, tech can be quite frightening and intimidating for those who don’t use it daily, so some warmth from a friendly interviewer/moderator can make it fun and interesting, improving our chances of discovering rich insight.

So the combination of digital and human will satisfy the business stakeholders who need to please shareholders, assist the insight teams that need to deliver better value with more impact and ensure that the consumer remains a real person in the results we work so hard to achieve. It is impossible to bring great research to life without your consumers feeling loved!

Jonathan Million

Founder & Chief Innovation Officer