I’m often asked to provide advice to startups in the space of market research. With the experience of starting a market research company (which was later sold to Publicis Groupe in 2012) and now being deeply involved in heading the AI-driven research at Course5 Intelligence, I can vouch that I have seen and been part of this evolving market research journey. Along the way, I have seen some very inspiring success stories and some that have failed for various reasons.

To startups who would listen, here’s what I’ve learned:

1. Don’t just be another technology company – While there is no argument that the future of MR is and will continue to be driven by technology innovations, one must be mindful that these technology-led innovations have to be path-breaking and not middling. For example, new technologies like Virtual/Augmented Reality (VAR) and Biometric tracking are radically changing the way MR companies gather information. With the inroads made by technology, surveys that earlier required multiple face-to-face immersion workshops across locations, can now be managed at short notice via virtual rooms with participants from diverse locations involving a fraction of the costs. Due to this evolution, a lot of startups are breaking into Market Research space with latest and groundbreaking technologies. For these innovations to work, one has to understand the entire market research business and the value chain with all its tangible and intangible components—and then bring some truly game-changing value within the existing space.

2. Augment, don’t replace. Make the right choice! – Most large client organizations have set procedures or global processes in place for market research and insights. Don’t start by completely disrupting these processes, there will surely be pushback and inertia to change, which eventually leads to rejection of many new ideas. Instead, the right starting point is to examine their value chain and see what and where you can augment.

For instance, Voxpopme understood the importance of qualitative insights and saw the need to bring them up to speed and scale with quantitative insights in a digital world. They came up with a customer video insights platform—combined with automated, instant analytics—that offer qualitative insight in a fraction of the time required by traditional methods. Using theme coding and sentiment scoring, the platform greatly speeded up time to decision-making and the quality of decision-making by retaining the all-important qualitative element. They also extend this integration of video with analytics to other areas such as customer experience insights, using automated insights from customer stories to enhance Voice-of-Customer listening programs.

If you are able to transform MR with the help of newer techniques/technology augmentation, you are not essentially changing the crux or fundamentals of research practice, rather you are upgrading it and delivering higher value. Such augmentation is what will largely resonate and drive acceptance. So before your innovation walks the path of ‘replacing’, think of ‘augmenting’ and you will have better chances of success!

3. Pick a niche to provide outstanding value – Bringing a unique proposition to the table is a great idea, but the key will be to have wider acceptance. Hence, don’t try to force-fit or create a new niche simply to stand out. Instead, dive in and drive a particular niche with a well-researched business decision. Challenge the status quo, unlearn to learn, build with passion, and keep demonstrating the value—these are some of the things that will help you stay relevant.

As Dean Kamen, who holds over 400 patents and invented the Segway, said: “Every once in a while, a new technology, an old problem, and a big idea turn into an innovation.” This is your best time to drive focused innovation and take the industry to the next level.

I spoke a little bit about this at IIeX North America this year. Hear the clip: Advice to Startups

(Note: This article was also published on LinkedIn)

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