Revisiting Market Research in the Age of Privacy and Personalization

Understanding your audience is more important than ever. Yet, people are concerned about their privacy. Where does market research fall ethically?

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Market research has been a sustainable piece of the marketing toolkit for decades. Focus groups, surveys, and customer interviews provided insights into what customers wanted before complex platforms let us quietly gather a large range of information on buying habits and preferences. Yet, as marketing surveillance has become embedded in all parts of the wider system, many companies are struggling to define the line between personalization and privacy. It’s not just technology in the crosshairs. Market research is also under scrutiny. Here are some aspects to consider when evaluating market research in today’s age of privacy and personalization.

Consent vs. covert: One of the benefits of using market research to gather information about your customers is that it involves informed consent. Customers have to opt in to share their opinions and can choose how much (or how little) of their insights and opinions to share. Technology-based research can feel more covert and give people a sense that their information is being used or collected without their permission. While most brands today have developed policies that keep them in line with legal requirements, there’s another dimension that’s more about perception. Do customers and prospective customers feel good or bad about how you collect their information?

Inclusivity: Market research stands out among the various research options because it allows brands to be inclusive in their feedback in the market and incorporate a wider range of voices into shaping their product development, service delivery, and business models. Typically, there are profiles defined for surveys and focus groups that incorporate target demographics. In market research, these individuals are sought to provide a well-rounded perspective. With straight analytics, brands are only able to measure their current customers or people who organically self-select interacting with their brand.

Clearer intent: One of the criticisms of big data is the challenge that consumers don’t know how information being collected will be used. When companies invest in market research, there’s a clear intention that’s disclosed to customers—such as creating a new product or refining marketing messaging to better appeal to certain demographics. Embrace clear intentions in your market research and use these customer interactions as an opportunity to provide a clear understanding of what data you’re collecting and how you’re using them in your marketing.

Market research—along with other forms of data collection—is under a microscope as society at large and individual consumers wrestle with privacy issues. Companies that focus on the advantages of market research, such as consent and transparency, will keep an important channel of communication open without crossing the lines around privacy concerns.