The market research stack you need for the future

Ryan Barry

Every day, big brands come up with new products with new names, packaging and pricing. They work on new creative, craft new messaging and explore new channels.

As an insights leader at one of those big brands, your company relies on you and your team to provide a deep understanding of your consumers — so that those ads land and those new products sell.

But your team can’t do it alone. You need the right partners to help you. That’s where your market research stack comes in.

There are a huge number of research vendors on the market today (Insight Platforms currently lists over 1,300 options!). So it’s hard to figure out what each vendor does, especially when they’re all using the same buzzwords to describe themselves.

To get a handle on this landscape, I’ve talked to over 75 global brands across different industries about what their market research tech stack looks like and compiled those learnings here. This is by no means an exhaustive list containing every category of insights available on the market today. Instead, it’s meant to give you and your team some direction about which categories of insights and vendors you should prioritize based on what some of your peers find useful.

1. Trend spotting

In our modern world, the only constant is change.

Trends come and go quickly, and if you miss the window on something important, you may have missed a major opportunity for business growth.

With so much on the line, spotting these future trends is definitely one area your team should be paying attention to in your market research stack.

Tools in this area typically mine online conversations to identify patterns. These insights provide a great place to start when your organization is looking to spot emerging trends to tap into for short-term growth — or even to find breakthrough ideas that have long-term implications for your business.

Basic social listening tools fall into this category, but what I’m most intrigued by right now are tools that use AI and data science to help you basically predict the future.

💡Best used for: Identifying emerging trends for further exploration. I recommend checking out Black Swan Data.

What does AI mean for the future of market research & beyond?

Check out our podcast episode on all things AI, from the implications of AI for market research to the threats and opportunities it presents for the world of tech, productivity, creativity and more.

2. Deep human understanding

If you’re like most insights leaders I know, you got into this type of work because you like to get into the minds of other humans and figure out what makes them tick.

What do they like? Why do they buy what they buy? How do they live?

This is where research that helps your team get at deep human understanding comes in. I’m not talking about how people respond to specific stimuli — I mean uncovering real truths of human nature within specific cultures.

There’s a wide range of research types in this area, including:

  • In-depth interviews 

  • Online communities 

  • Traditional and non-traditional focus groups 

  • Ethnographics/consumer safaris (observing consumers in their natural environment)

Essentially, exploratory research to understand people at their core.

This type of research is essential because if your team gets it right, they’ll be able to regularly offer insightful information to your organization about how to meet consumer needs — rather than just answer questions from internal stakeholders when they ask.

💡Best used for: Exploratory research to better understand how to meet consumer needs. I recommend checking out LRW, Fuel Cycle, Human8 or Voxpopme.

3. Pulse check

Sometimes your team wants to get deep inside someone’s head, other times they just want to ask a single question or two to get a quick read on a situation. When those situations come up, pulse check tools are what they’re looking for.

These types of tools let a researcher craft a short and user-friendly survey to get quick answers. With that information, they can inform a decision around a sponsorship or upcoming event, better understand a consumer usage pattern or attitude, react to something unexpected in market or simply answer a quick question they may have about their consumers on the fly.

That’s where these types of tools shine.

💡Best used for:  Quick insights to answer a specific question on the fly. I recommend checking out Zappi Ask Anything, SurveyMonkey or Suzy.

4. Ideation

Once there’s a trend or opportunity worth exploring, the business needs to come up with  ideas to address it.

While there’s probably never a shortage of ideas within your business, you can turn to traditional agencies to come up with innovation or advertising concepts.

There are some players doing some interesting things in this space, like BeenThereDoneThat. This company works to co-create ideas with consumers to land on the best and most creative ad and innovation ideas that are likely to land in the market.

💡Best used for: Brainstorming creative or innovation ideas. I recommend checking out BeenThereDoneThat.

Why you should fall in love with the problem, not the solution

Check out our podcast episode with Giles Jepson, COO at Been There Done That, who shares why so many marketing failures are due to not asking the right questions and why it's better to be a ‘learn-it-all’ than a ‘know-it-all’.

5. Pre-launch insights

Consumer research plays an important role in developing ad and innovation ideas, making them as strong as they can be by the time they go to market. It can help make sure you’ve selected the ideas with the most potential and that you’ve ultimately created the best version of the ad or innovation possible. 

And since there are so many decisions that need to be made throughout the creation process, it’s important to incorporate consumer feedback throughout to make sure you stay on the right track and maximize success at launch.

The right research platform allows you to learn and refine throughout the process so by the time the ad or product is ready for market, your business can be confident it will be a winner. 

The right platform can also enable you to learn over time so your ads and innovations become more and more successful. Your business can see how your creations are improving year on year. They can look at the characteristics driving success of the creations versus characteristics which are holding them back. They can make sure existing knowledge is used again and again for success. By learning from your past, you can get a head start on new ideas

💡Best used for: Getting consumer feedback on advertising or innovation concepts to optimize them before investing in market. Zappi fits perfectly into this spot in your tech stack.

Why researching ads early and often makes all the difference

Read our article that covers the costs of doing research late, why researching earlier will result in better outcomes as well as what to focus on when you get there.

6. Shopper insights

There’s a lot your team can learn to determine where to spend money in your marketing mix, how to optimize your promotional retail or ecommerce efforts, how to package products, and more.

There are a wide variety of options to explore in this category, and what your team uses depends on what you’re looking for.Some companies are doing innovative things with technology and behavioral science to help you dive into shopper motivation. Some are even using virtual reality to let consumers interact with a virtual store experience so brands can spot gaps. Other tools help you understand the consumer’s path to purchase online using behavioral data. 

If you find this level of depth unnecessary, there are some low-cost options that provide data on how consumers shop in the aggregate that can provide helpful insights for your team.

💡Best used for: Understanding consumer behaviors and attitudes related to their shopping experiences. I recommend checking out Zappi, PRS IN VIVO and Disqo.

7. Experiential insights

How do consumers view their experience with your brand? What can be improved? Typically, tools in this category focus on measuring the customer experience (CX) or the user experience (UX) to answer these questions.

Tools in the CX category are typically aimed at surveying consumers after an experience to understand what they liked and didn’t like about it.

Qualtrics may be the best tool for this on the market right now. It offers the ability to pass survey data directly into a CRM to get it into the hands of product or sales people who can take action on the feedback.

UX research is typically focused on the online experience. Various tools allow brands to ask users to take specific actions or answer questions while using the brand’s website, and give feedback in the moment as they go through the site.

Even CPG companies these days are using UX research to understand subscription models or dig into the online grocery buying experience.

If your consumers interact with your brand online at all, UX research is a must-have tool for your team.

💡Best used for: Understanding the experience you’re delivering in the market (customer or user experience research). I recommend checking out Qualtrics (CX) or UserTesting (UX).

8. Market measurement

Next are the insights that help your team measure some kind of activity in the market, a critical area of research to help your company understand the success of its efforts.

Some important areas of market measurement include:

  • Sales measurement: Track sales across channels, categories, demographic groups, etc.

  • Ad performance: Measure how your ads performed in awareness, favorability, purchase intent, behavioral metrics, etc.

  • Brand tracking: Look at how your brand metrics move over time to understand how various decisions affect your brand image.

Great minds have spent their entire careers trying to nail attribution — and many have not been successful. But some companies are leading the charge to make attribution more accurate and useful.

💡Best used for:  Measuring in-market activity or attitudes to help you attribute your investments or calibrate your go-to-market efforts. We recommend checking out Kantar Worldpanel, IRI, 84.51°, dunnhumby and Proquo AI.

9. Knowledge management

If you’re investing in research from each of the eight areas we’ve mentioned so far, things can quickly get out of control.

Knowledge management tools have cropped up to solve this problem. These solutions promise to bring all of your research together in one place so you can stop neglecting your past studies and look across everything to identify important themes.

Of course, knowledge management solutions are not always the silver bullet research teams have longed for. Your knowledge management system will only be as good as your instance and the work your team puts into it. But with the promise of solving a problem that has long plagued the insights community, it’s worth including in your market research stack.

💡Best used for:  Bringing it all together. We recommend checking out Market Logic and KnowledgeHound.

Setting up a world-class knowledge management system

Catch our podcast episode with Frank Santiago, Global Knowledge Management Manager at Colgate-Palmolive, who shares how (and why) to invest in a knowledge management system and the key mistakes to avoid.

10. Consultants

One theme you may have noticed across the previous market research categories in this list is that they all use technology as much as possible. With technology making rapid strides every day, we see no reason not to rely on technology to uncover new insights and automate some of the more mundane parts of research.

But there is still a role to play for humans. From our perspective, human partners are best employed to add value on top of your technology. If you’re just using them for data collection, you may be wasting their brain power (and your money).

When you’ve automated those types of mundane tasks, you can pay a premium for experts to help you make sense of all of your research and offer strategic recommendations for what to do with it. Ideally, these people will understand your category will be able to work closely with you as another member of your team.

💡Best used for: Making sense of your research and offering strategic recommendations. I recommend checking out LRW, Zappi or The Garage Group.

BONUS: The data layer

It may go without saying to an experienced research audience, but your research is only as good as the quality of data behind it.

Typically, your relationship with data providers comes through the vendors you work with. Your vendors manage the relationship and you benefit from the data. This is normal and expected, but your team should always remember that you are at the mercy of how your vendors collect their data.

It’s up to them to make sure you ask the right questions to understand how that data is gathered and analyzed. With that in mind, data can be considered a “bonus layer.” It’s always there in the background of your relationships with all the partners on this list.

Some researchers even take this a step further and form a direct relationship with data providers as well.

💡Best used for: Getting accurate research results. I recommend checking out PureSpectrum.

Wrapping up

I wish it were as easy as “just buy these three pieces of technology and you’ll be all set!” But as you well know, the truth is the insights landscape is complicated because your needs are complicated.

You and your team have a variety of different questions to answer and truths to uncover to get into the minds of your consumers.

And to make things more complicated, no two businesses have exactly the same needs. But I think that I’ve landed on the 10 categories of insights (plus a bonus) to address the majority of your team’s research needs.

So use this opportunity to evaluate your current market research stack. Is there anything that’s missing? Anything that’s not providing value?

And talk to Zappi about where we can fit into your current stack.

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