Research in marketing: why our methods need modernising

While media and marketing has grown ever-more complex in recent decades, many marketing research methods remain stuck in the 1940s. Here, Leonie Annor-Owiredu argues it’s time to move on

The most famous quote in Octavia Butler’s novel Parable of the Sower is that “the only lasting truth is change”. Never has this been more poignant than in 2020, yet while this year has wrought more change than most of us would ever have imagined, there remain plenty of areas of life and work which are still stuck in the past. One of these is marketing research.

Though consumer research is the focus when it comes to brands creatively solving problems, its approach – more often than not – is anything but creative and rarely consumer-centric. Some of the core methods used – for instance, polls and surveys – were popularised in the early 1900s, while focus groups date back to 1940. That means that one of the most popular kinds of research used today is 80 years old.

So why are we circling in and out of research methods used in the pre-Mad Men days to still engage people today? To understand more about how we can think differently in this day and age, particularly post-Covid, I spoke to three leaders within the field of research about how they approach things, focusing on three different angles: How we talk; How we gather; How we group.