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Q & A with Rich Clarke, Phase 5’s new Vice President of Client Solutions

Recently, Phase 5 announced the appointment of Rich Clarke. We’re excited to have Rich on board, in part because he truly has his finger on the pulse of the current and future state of market research, which will help Phase 5 continue to provide top notch service and solutions to our clients. We sat down with Rich to get his take on where things are, and where they are going.  Here’s a quick recap of my conversation with him. 


Q1: How has the role of market research evolved in recent years to prioritize customer centricity? 

Thinking back over the decades of what market research is and what it will become, the idea of prioritizing customer centricity has always been critical in driving business success. As our entire world has become much more immediate, especially with digitization, there is a clear need for brands to get closer to their customers in more real time. Now, I'm not going to say everything is real time, but there is a need for agility and speed to be able to drive this idea of customer centricity. So, the evolution is really all about the speed and application of insights to drive action on the client’s business.  


Q2:  What are the key differences in customer centricity strategies between traditional market research and digital-first approaches? 

Traditionally, research has been somewhat siloed, where even within the Insights role there are siloes. Researchers focused on brand, innovation, market assessment and other more traditional approaches (i.e. concept testing, pricing etc.).  In a digitized world, we are seeing a blending of UX, CX and product innovation in search of a more holistic view to create actionable insights. Clients are asking good questions, like “How does an omnichannel experience impact UX” or “How does the UI tool impact customer satisfaction and therefore loyalty?”  The need to be agile plays into the need to meld practice areas to develop a truly holistic customer solution.  That’s what we are doing at Phase 5, looking at how these practices can come together and the points of intersection to drive new levels of insight. 


Q3:  What are the most significant challenges market researchers face today when it comes to truly understanding customer needs? 

There's a couple of key areas for me. One is the agility and speed as I have previously referenced.  Being able to create, deploy, and analyze data to generate actionable insight at the speed in which data is created, particularly when using manual processes, is a big challenge for market researchers, both on the client and vendor side. 

The second challenge is about who we are talking to when conducting market research. Sample quality is something the industry needs to focus on and address, figuring out how to address issues created by bots and fake/”professional” respondents.  To help our clients, it's imperative that we as an industry continue to stay ahead of these issues and address them to mitigate against fraudulent responses.  As professional researchers we are empowered to help our clients in this quest and must use our expertise to continue to increase the quality of the samples that we talk to. 


Q4:  Can you share any recent trends or insights in the Market Research Industry that have surprised you? 

There is a clear evolution of the industry that’s occurring.  Ten years ago there was a shift to a lot of DIY platforms, and many clients were moving to that model. Now, the pendulum is starting to swing back to the full-service side as the solutions that DIY platforms offer are starting to generate more questions than answers.  Clients look at Insight firms to provide thought leadership to answer bigger questions and challenges utilizing a variety of solutions. 

Clients need to trust the tools and solutions they are employing in their businesses. That’s why vetting these tools and solutions is an increasingly important element as we move forward. Understanding when to apply the right tools and methods in a contextualized fashion is becoming more important again.  No longer just focusing on the data (and the speed at which it is collected), but understanding the adjunctive listening posts and solutions that are out there. 


Q5: How do you see the role of customer centricity evolving in the next five years within the market research industry? 

We are all now living in a digital first world. There are so many things going on as consumers and businesses push into this new digital landscape. Every consumer of any service is living inside their own personal technology ecosystem, and they bring more products and services into it.  

In the future, the focus of the insights function will need to be on the blending of both attitudinal and behavioral data within a consumers’ ecosystem; their expectations of how to engage with brands will evolve with more AI focused solutions coming to the forefront.  Market research professionals will need to challenge themselves to integrate both within these ecosystems and omnichannel experiences to be able to derive future looking insights that can have immediate impact on a clients’ business. 

This will include needing to think differently about the data that is used to derive insight – it will need to be the right modality for the right audience (i.e. conversational vs. structured quant) combined with other listening posts that will drive insight.  We will also need to consider ways that we can shorten research experiences and make them more engaging for participants to drive response rates up. 


Q6:  In what ways have data privacy regulations impacted the methods and tools used in market research? 

Data privacy is a really interesting topic. It depends on where you are in the world as to what those regulations look like. Some places are looser, some are more stringent.  If you think about Europe with GDPR, there's a lot of challenges that are created in terms of finding and engaging the right people. 

There is also sensitive information out there like PII. As an industry, we must be very protective of the data respondents are providing to us. We need to use not just what people are saying; we need data that reflects what people are doing.  This is about finding different listening posts at the same time to help create more detailed datasets that can uncover new insights while still remaining respectful of consumers’ data privacy. 

There's a lot of talk these days about synthetic data and using that to be reflective of consumers attitudes and needs in a predictive manner.  I think this will continue to grow in usage as data privacy restrictions continue to tighten and be used in certain situations.  At the same time, I see a need for a tighter linkage between predictive models and actual business results – linking Insight data to outcomes in a world where privacy regulations are tightening will help keep the insights function central to customer centricity. 


Q7: How do you anticipate changes in consumer expectations will influence market research methodologies? 

15 years ago, people used to sit on the phone/computer and answer questions. People's attention spans have continued to drop, and that will continue as we become more digitized in our engagement modes.  We as an industry need to become more creative where we are meeting respondents and how we are engaging with them; we need to engage in modalities that are native to the audiences we are reaching. 

For the industry as a whole, respondents’ main expectation is to stop asking repetitive and non-essential questions – this is driving disengagement as respondents expect we already know significant amounts about them.  The questions we should be asking need to be much more contextualized and layered with what we already know about them. 

There is also an expectation around why to participate.  Respondents (consumers and businesses alike) need to understand why we are asking questions and more importantly what we as brands are doing with that information and how it is changing the services that they are consuming.  Intrinsic motivation will become more of a powerful reason to participate in research. 


Q8: How are advancements in technology, such as AI and machine learning, transforming the landscape of market research? 

AI is the acronym of the moment. No doubt AI is having a huge impact on every industry, the products, services and things we consume. For market research it's no different. There are literally thousands of solutions -- Some simple, some more complex. It's all about uncovering the right context and place.  

Where I see AI transforming the insight function in the near term is by making operational tasks easier or quicker.  For example, for decades market research has asked open-ended questions, and those answers get codified manually. Now, AI can do that, which is fantastic because it drives efficiency, which in turn helps clients because it helps the industry become more cost effective. 

But is it always accurate? Not necessarily just yet, but it can still drive significant efficiency before an insight executive needs to be engaged and thus drives speed and value to the client. 

Another use case is for mid-size and large organizations that are collecting lots of data and insights from varying places that may or may not be linked together. Now AI can look across this data and potentially provide themes and insights which previously professionals were not able to because of time or other pressures. 

In short, I think AI will be very beneficial to us and our clients. At Phase 5 we are looking at all kinds of tools to help meet our clients’ needs. Identifying the right tools for the right jobs will be an incredibly important function for insights professionals using AI. 


Q9: What skills do you think will be crucial for market research professionals to develop to stay relevant in a rapidly changing industry? 

The insights function used to be about the right way to structure questions to get the right insights – that now really is a cost of entry with any potential client.  Where the insights industry is evolving to is not just about knowing the right methodologies, it's about bringing our heads up from the “market research” function and thinking of how the insights we are developing drive business impact and results. 

Today’s skillset is more related to a deeper understanding of the business to bring data to life and tell impactful stories through that lens, not just the collection and analysis of that data.  And the only way you can do that is to understand the client and their industry.  That provides a deeper level of contextualized insight that adds significant value to a clients’ decisions. 


Written by Stephan Sigaud

Stephan Sigaud, MBA, is Phase 5’s EVP of Marketing. Stephan is passionate about partnering with clients to address their challenges and opportunities around customer centricity. Stephan has more than 25 years’ experience in Market Research and Customer Loyalty and Experience and is a Board Director of the Insights Association. He has also been volunteering with the Customer Experience Professionals Association (as past Chair of the CXPA Toronto Network) and the Canadian Marketing Association (as member of the Leaders Network and past co-Chair of the CMA CX Council).