2012 is right around the corner, and this is the time when the market research industry is rife with prognostications about where we’re all headed.

We asked a few Communispacers about what they thought the biggest trends and opportunities for 2012 would be, and while they all protested oracle-status, what emerged is nonetheless an interesting look at the big picture of market research. What are we looking for, what are we trying, and what are we doing with what we discover?

Here are some of our picks for key questions and trends for 2012:

The Wisdom of the 99% … and of the Unconscious
Julie Wittes Schlack, Senior Vice President, Innovation and Design, Research and Innovation

Back in April or May, You Tube videos and Facebook postings started popping up showing people holding handmade signs containing a taped-on dollar bill and a single, provocative question: “Washington, Do I Matter Now?” That may have been a rhetorical question, but baffled and angry and hopeful citizens are reframing much of the national discussion in the political realm. And they’re doing the same in every facet of society.

Besides seeing seeds of hope in this movement, I think I’m also seeing an incipient trend that will become more prevalent in 2012: the crowdsourcing not just of answers, but of questions. In this scenario, researchers begin an inquiry by asking “What should we be asking you?” Respondents are not just subjects, but sponsors, helping to shape the research agenda, indirectly telling you what they think you need to know. Not only does this fuel engagement, but more systematically provides brands with the answers to questions they never thought to ask.

2012 will also be the year in which passive forms of research, such as eye tracking and facial expression analysis, become far more scalable. Thanks to web cams, we can see how people sitting at home respond to everything from commercials to shelf sets. In the coming year we’ll get far more of this non-self-reported, passive data than was ever possible before. Whether we’ll actually learn something actionable from it is an open question, but stay tuned – I hope to have a somewhat informed answer when writing this blog next December!

Digging Deeper into Emotion
Howard Kogan, Chief Technology & Strategy Officer

From the military to genomics to market research, one thing is common – we are all drowning in data. This is a good thing, but it does raise a series of questions: Do we need to simply focus on the good stuff, measuring what matters? Do we need better tools for turning our data into knowledge and then into action? Yes to both of these questions, and perhaps counter intuitively, do we need even more data? Most definitely! In the coming year we will increase our experiments with a key form of additional data: non-textual modes of emotional expression. Marrying consumers’ emotional expressions in real-time with cognitive responses we believe will lead to whole series of insights never before available to drive business impact.

Breaking out of our comfort zones
Susan Cress, Director of Strategic Accounts

One of my greatest fears in life is becoming complacent. As much as I can, I try to do one thing every day that scares me. In consumer insights as in life, it is so easy to get into a rut or to just keep doing what works… it’s safe, easy and you pretty much know the outcome. But that’s not how innovations, ah-ha’s or inspirations are discovered. Simply asking a consumer/customer something different (scary or out of your comfort zone) may yield insight that takes you in a new direction, stimulates additional ideas or sheds new light on what seemed to be a stagnant theme. So before you order the same muffin with your coffee or post the same survey that you used last year, shake it up, do something different, make yourself sweat a little.

Telling powerful stories
Jen Reddy, VP, Global Marketing

I have worked in the market research space for the majority of my career….close to 17 years. That is a scary data point. Much has changed during that time but one debate still rages on: Quant vs. Qual. It’s amazing to me that this conversation is still alive and kicking when in my opinion, we are all missing the point. Ian Lewis, the former VP of Consumer Research and Insights for Time, Inc., hinted at this when he stated that 60% of research leaders in corporations expect a major transformation of our industry by 2020, and a majority of that majority expects this shift to be manifesting itself by 2015.

The future of market research isn’t about data or sample size or enthography or focus groups….the methodology is just a means to an end.

We need to focus more on connecting the dots, telling a compelling story and having real business impact within an organization.

So what IS the end? THE STORY.

Great brands tell powerful stories. Stories that evoke emotion, make you want to act, give you a reason to believe….dare I say inspire you. The key is using all the research tools available to capture human behavior and weave it together into something amazing, something meaningful. From this point, new ideas can be formed – and categories can be reinvented, driving real business impact in the form of change and innovation.

What do you think market researchers and brands should be looking for in the next year?

Communispace’s market research online communities (MROCs) have helped some of the world’s most admired brands make surprising discoveries about their customers. To learn how companies like Bank of America, Godiva, and Gilt Groupe are using online communities to grow and innovate, download our Insights Bundle, which features ten MROC case studies.

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