We are coming up to the time of year when pundits write about trends and innovations in market research for the coming year. But why are such predictions often too optimistic about the speed with which such innovations will be adopted?
I recently had the pleasure of teaching students taking a course on ‘disruptive innovation’ as part of an MA in Social Innovation. One of the core topics covered the diffusion of innovation, a theory developed by Everett M. Rogers through social research, but which also underpins many (if not all) product forecasting models used in market research. As with many such theories, market researchers don’t always apply the theory to our industry in the same way that we think about clients’ businesses.
Rogers’ theory focuses on the importance of new ideas diffusing interpersonal communication. He argues that certain factors are very important in determining the speed with which a new idea will spread in awareness and ultimately in adoption. It’s worth considering the factors he identified.
Does the new idea have a relative advantage over existing ones? An advantage can be an economic benefit, improved performance, greater convenience, or even emotional benefits such as social prestige.
Is the new idea compatible with existing beliefs and past experiences? If the idea doesn’t meet the needs of the industry, it won’t be adopted. If the idea clashes with existing cultural and social norms, it will be rejected.
Is the new idea simpler or more complex than existing ideas? If an idea is difficult to understand and use, then it may be difficult for it to get traction, whereas if it is simple to understand and use, it is much more likely to be adopted.
Is the new idea ‘trialable’? How easy is it to access the new idea and ‘try it out’? As with new product launches, customers have to be aware of the new idea (and why it is relevant to them) and also be able to access it in a time, place, and manner convenient to them.
Rogers’ final factor is observability. Are the results (and benefits) of the new idea visible to others, making it easy for them to have exposure to any benefits that the new idea provides?
Looking at market research innovations through this lens helps to clarify why many ideas take much longer to be adopted than predicted. It may also provide a reality check on more recent innovations in the industry.
Let’s take the example of artificial intelligence (AI), which was predicted to take over the market research world in 2019. What are the relative advantages of AI over other approaches? Is using AI compatible with existing industry practices? Is AI simple to understand? Is it easy and affordable to try out? Are the process and results observable?
If the answer to most of these questions is not a clear ‘yes’, my only prediction is that it may take a few more years for AI to be widely used in market research. •
By Neil Gains, Tapestry Works