Crossroads in Market Research: The Traditional v Contemporary Debate
Social media is taking the world by storm and the Arab region is no exception to this. Market research firms are increasingly adopting alternative market research methods that are able to capitalize on these large and active networks that industry stakeholders are beginning to question whether the more traditional forms of market research (face to face interviews, surveys, focus groups) are slowly being replaced.
Contemporary or alternative methods of market research are arguably faster and cheaper. They also allow firms to conduct research on smaller scopes of work that are perhaps not big enough to mandate a traditional research approach. One example of this might be a firm that is looking to test out different product names or designs by reaching a certain number of respondents within a short period of time. Using methods such as online panels and communities can provide considerable insight quickly and at a relatively low cost, once the necessary infrastructure is in place.
According to We Are Social, the Middle East region boasts the fastest growth across key digital indicators, whether in terms of internet penetration or the use of social media; in the space of a year, the number of internet users rose by 15% and the usage of social media on mobile devices grew by 44%. UAE residents spend an average of 3 hours 37 minutes a day using the internet on their phone alone. In fact, they spend more time browsing the internet than they do watching TV. Internet penetration stands at 96%, a rate that is higher than countries such as Canada or the UK. These figures provide a small snapshot into the wide possibilities of conducting such quick and cost-effective research.
Despite this, the uptake of digital tools and platforms within the realm of market research is less developed in the Middle East than in other parts of the world. Part of this is due to the fact that there is less of a push to adopt new methods of research. For instance, few firms in the region operate high quality online panels that are representative of the general population or depending on the circumstances, niche sections of the population. Limited competition within this segment also means that some firms will seek to charge a significant premium, largely defeating part of the purpose of these tools.
A general criticism of using tools such as social media analytics is that the target is predominantly millennials or younger generations. Although 60% of the region’s population is under 25, it still largely disregards large sections of the population who also have valuable insight to share. Other drawbacks worth noting relate to difficulties in ensuring the right demographic match, the relatively simple nature of questions along with developing an incentive system that encourages satisfactory response rates (whilst avoiding oversaturation).
Building on these shortcomings, traditional research is generally better equipped for more complex projects, particularly where respondents might need additional explanation or clarification of the question at hand. Additionally, in many cases, newer tools lack the ability to convey non-verbal responses. One of the strengths of face to face interviews lies in the insight gained from non-verbal cues such as body language or facial expressions, that add a great deal of clarity and depth when discussing a particular topic. Such tools however, do tend to be more costly and require greater time for mobilization, fieldwork and analysis.
Rather than viewing traditional and contemporary forms of market research as being mutually exclusive, companies and clients should view them as complements. Each has its own set of advantages and disadvantages depending on the research requirements at hand, and the methodology used should ultimately reflect the goals and objectives of the project.
In the future, it remains to be seen how receptive the region will be to these newer tools and whether research firms will make greater use of digital advancements. However, if one thing is certain, traditional tools are not going anywhere and will continue to occupy an important role in all kinds of research.