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Interview with Next Gen Researcher Tom H. C. Anderson

Working with successful professionals across industries as we do,somebusiness issues may differ, but one overarching goal seems to be critical everywhere in today’s market - gaining a competitive advantage through insights and innovation. This is the reason Strategic Solutions Network (SSN), decided to create an event to help our constituents identify and make sense of the many new techniques and methodologies which have come to share the space which was traditionally focused on survey and focus group research.

As we set out to investigate this domain, speaking to experts and fortune 500 clients within out network, one source stood out. Next Gen Market Research Group (NGMR), now with over 18,000 members has long been at the forefront of openly discussing new technology and methodologies related to marketing insights. Inspired by the groups’ discussion and subsequent follow up with some of its more active members SSN is creating The Annual Market Research Innovations Congress.

Today we reached out to NGMR founder, and Managing Partner of Anderson Analytics (OdinText), who started the group in 2007 and initiated the discussion on the changing face of market research which has now become so popular. Since 2005 he has been a key leadernot only within the marketing research industry, but in the fast growing field of text analytics as well.

Q. Next Gen Market Research networking group (NGMR), seems to have been the first group of its kind in the marketing research industry and was the first to popularize the discussion around change in research. What does NGMR mean, and why did you start the initiative?

A. Well it’s definitely not the first or only grouping of research professionals. In our profession it seems very natural to organize and discuss best practices. But back in early 2007 just two years after I had founded our firm to leverage data and text mining for market research, the mainissue I saw continuously being discussed at research trade events and publications was the quality of online sample. My interest was very much in the areas of analytics (including text analytics) and big data, and I thought there must be other researchers who are interested in this area as well. By nature we are a very inquisitive group and love learning.

Originally the focus was very much on two things. On the one hand leveraging other sources of data outside surveys and focus groups, primarily the several other data streams most companies have (Call center logs, CRM databases etc.). Secondly, and related to this, was learning about which tools and techniques would best allow us to do this.
I think over the past five years the discussion in the group has covered almost every conceivable area of the marketing research discipline as well as best practices from other disciplines including BI, IT, CI and the relatively newer area of social media monitoring. During this time I think the meaning of NGMR has also expanded and come to mean different things to different members and is no longer limited to just advanced analytics.

Q. Are you pleased with how the industry has developed over these past five years? What would you like to see more or less of?

A. Well yes, for me it continues to be a very interesting field, and my own views have and will continue to change as I’m sure is true for the majority of the other researchers in the NGMR community.

I think most of us are heading in the right direction, but I’d still like to see some of the change happen faster. By change I mean ability and comfort in analyzing various types of data to reach your key business objectives.

There seems to be a mental block against things that are quick, cheap and good. But in fact that is exactly what something has to be in order to be truly innovative and replace something old. Quick, cheap and good can happen, and cheap and good are really a function of ROI.

Conversely, I don’t believe some of the discussion that seems to indicate traditional research is broken. It’s not, and it will certainly continue to be an important part of addressing various business problems whether used by itself or in conjunction with other data and techniques. This was really the initial point of NGMR, to marry our best practices with other sound practices from the BI field, not to replace them.

I’m also very skeptical of those who have hopped on the NGMR bandwagon, for lack of a better term, in pushing either totally unproven methodologies, or have tried to repackage the same old techniques in a flashier skin and name. To me research is research whether we’re talking about the traditional techniques or mining or social engagement analysis.

In my opinion what NGMR should have in common with traditional techniques is that both should be built on sound research methodology and the scientific method. If something can’t be reproduced or validated, then it’s neither traditional nor Next Gen in my opinion. There should be nothing ‘New’ about research as it should be built on solid methodology, something that has always existed.

Q. NGMR group has certainly become a key resource for many client side researchers who are struggling with greater demands ranging from trying to understand what techniques to try, to what software to buy, or how to best tackle certain business research issues. Who would you say has contributed the most to the discussion and evolution of this industry so far?

A. There are several research polymaths or masters in the group. That’s not surprising to me; if you’ve spent at least 10 years in the research field and managed your career wisely it is possible to know most of the basics in regard to good research. Many of those masters of market research want to continue to expand their knowledge base, and to do so often requires gaining inspiration and knowledge from these outside fields I mentioned earlier.

We now have an interesting mix of membersin the group, from research client and supplier side professionals, to developers, marketers and academics. I think that what some of those who just skim the NGMR discussion board once in a while don’t seem to realize is that the true value lies in making connections with these different people.

For me, a lot of the most interesting discussion actually happens via email or off line via the phone or at an industry event. The community as well as the concept of NGMR isn’t static, it’s dynamic, and the networking and relationship component which social media platforms like our LinkedIn group have allowed us to better leverage is one of the key benefits as I see it. 

Q. What role do you think the NGMR community will play in shaping the future of research?

A. Well it has democratized the industry in some ways. It’s also made it easier to share experiences and thoughts. Once in a while a discussion on a market research related topic can get kind of heated. This can be uncomfortable for some, but I think it’s not only necessary but beneficial. Whether it’s in relation to somewhat taboo industry trends such as the offshoring which was popularized a few years ago to discussing the benefits, and arguably even more importantly, the short comings of new proposed techniques, this kind of open debate didn’t exist previously.

If you are pushing some new way to do things it’s only natural to be challenged. If you can’t properly defend your approach either from the business perspective or prove that it is in fact based on the scientific method, then I think it’s beneficial to all to uncover the problems early. Some new techniques will and should fail; others will go on to become an important part of the tool box of future research.

Q. What role do you think conference events should play in this evolution of research?

A. I think events, if organized correctly, can be an extension of this democratization of market research. I’m not as big a fan of events or trade orgs that are paid for and controlledby just a handful of the bigger players in research, who tend to have a vested interest in the status quo. I would like to see events that, just as the NGMR group, attempt to introduce and marry best practices between BI or CI with market research, or which attempt to encourage departments other than just market research to share information and analytics. I also think the link between academia and business is not as strong as it could be, and I’d like to see some of these events try to bridge that gap as well.

In the end, for me, other than a few talks that are relevant or inspiring, a key benefit of some of the events I’ve participated in is allowing us to put a face to a name, and thus deepen relationships many of which may lead to interesting and mutually beneficial opportunities.

Q. Thank you Tom. NGMR and its members have already been a great resource for us, and we look forward to understanding how we can help promote the discussion and learning within the research community?

A. Thanks for your interest, I’m sure several researchers will be happy to give you their thoughts on what they value. I think there’s room for more interesting events, if they’re done correctly and are developed with input from the greater research community.


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