The Thought Leader's Voice Podcast

Emerging Trends in Market Research: Thought Leadership, Evolution of Survey, and Agile Research

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As part of our Thought Leaders Voice podcast series, we are thrilled to be in a conversation with Aijaz Hussain: on ‘Emerging Trends in Market Research: Thought Leadership, Evolution of Survey, and Agile Research’.

In the Thought Leaders Voice podcast series, we explore the world of how independent thought leaders bring their ideas to scale within the business world and share powerful, thought provoking insights with our listeners.

Our objective from this podcast series remains to educate senior level marketers & thought leaders to help them solve some of the most quizzing marketing questions propping up right now.

This is an independent and self-sponsored series aimed towards enhancing profiles & importance of thought leaders amongst CXOs.

Join the conversation to access actionable advice shared in an incredibly insightful way.

Aijaz Hussain is a research and insights leader serving the manufacturing and energy industries. He leads the aerospace and defense, engineering and construction, and chemicals sector research for Deloitte and serves as the principal advisor to national sector leadership and the practice leaders in these markets. He is the U.S. firm’s key point of contact on market trends, issues, drivers, and major market developments.

Aijaz has over 18 years of experience in research, Thoughtware development, business strategy, market/competitive intelligence, and financial analysis. He has authored numerous compelling, high-impact thought leadership studies in the areas of business strategy, advanced technologies, digital transformation, innovation, sustainability, and the future of work. Aijaz has developed and managed large-scale research projects and eminence campaigns end-to-end, both independently as well as in teams across geographies.

Key Takeaways

  • Dramatic changes in the market can sometimes shift an organization’s business objectives and as result its marketing strategy. Large thought leadership programs can then become misaligned. What steps are required in your opinion to re-align and make sure they marry up with business needs?
  • If comprehensive changes are made to your thought leadership campaign, such as hypothesis, research scope or content activation, this can alter the overall outcomes. These adjustments may no longer align with what was agreed initially with the management team. How to best circumvent this?
  • What role does data visualization play in making complex business trends easy to understand and advising solutions to clients?
  • With respect to the evolution of surveys, with the mobile adoption, et cetera. Have you seen any trends at a macro level on survey design?
  • What is the role of insights in a modern brand and how has that changed in the last five years?
  • How do qualitative and quantitative research work together?
  • What are the ways in which agile market research is revolutionizing how companies get insights today?

Full Transcript of Podcast with Aijaz Hussain

Andrew Newby: Hello everyone. My name is Andrew Newby, and I’ll be hosting a series of iResearch Services podcasts over the coming weeks. These are intended to educate senior-level marketers and thought leaders as to how to address some of the more challenging and exciting issues facing them currently. Our topic today is of emerging trends and market research with reference to the evolution of survey and agile research. With that, I’d like to welcome our very first guest expert based in Dallas, Texas. Aijaz Hussain is a US research and insights leader serving the manufacturing and energy industries for Deloitte. Aijaz has over 18 years of experience in research thought ware development, business strategy, market, competitive intelligence and financial analysis. He has authored numerous compelling high-impact thought leadership studies in the areas of business strategy, advanced technologies, digital transformation, sustainability, and the future of work. Aijaz Hussain. Welcome, and thank you for sharing your insights with our listeners.

Aijaz Hussain: Thank you, Andrew. It’s a pleasure joining this podcast. I’m really looking forward to having a meaningful conversation on this particular topic.

Andrew Newby: Yeah, no, you’re very welcome. Ijus, what is the current role of insights in a modern brand? How has that changed over the last five years or so?

Aijaz Hussain: Yeah, so insights analytics play a vital role to build and drive customer centricity, which in turn affects how a brand is perceived and valued in the marketplace. Right? So as an organization’s brand depends on its customer’s needs and desires and is influenced by their perception. Brand value really boils down to getting inside your customer’s head, right? So, insights help achieve that by answering some of the most important questions such as; What do my customers think? How do they behave? What do they need? Where do they go to get it? What’s important to them? How does my brand make them feel? And also, how does my brand help them further their goals? And as you know, consumers are increasingly seeking brands and products that align with their cultural identity and lifestyle leading to intense competition in each and every market that a particular brand operates. So, insights help a firm be more agile in understanding why other brands are growing, what threat is pose and how they could compete. It helps in catalyzing conversations about strategy, ultimately leading to changes across the organization and also the employee mindset. While driving consistent growth and profitability requires employees at higher levels, spanning functions from R and D to supply chain, to marketing and finance, it’s the insights engine that helps achieve and sustain brand leadership. In addition to providing an ability to take a truly consumer-centric approach insights, help brand in reducing costs, as they know more about their audiences, that is their customers channels, as well as tactics to focus on moreover it creates opportunities for more authentic marketing communications.

So, for instance, organizations value is exceptionally tied to its brand and reputation and various analysis done in this particular field reveal that intangible assets comprise over 80% of the value of companies on the S and P 500. Moreover, they spend a lot of time tracking their competitors and in trying to out-compete them. So, one of the key contributing factors to revenue and margin growth is a firm’s brand value, which is heavily influenced by its thought leadership. So thought leadership is one of the critical factors shaping impressions of the firm’s brand reputation and the most significant influencer of perceptions about its innovative capabilities. Five or six years ago, attributes such as execution or operational effectiveness used to come for a long-term advantage. If an organization designed and developed higher quality products and access video distribution, they would have outrun their competition. But today those capabilities are just table stakes insights. On the other hand, which is a foundational element of customer centricity is a new source of competitive advantage. Insights, health organizations deeply understand their customer’s needs and help fulfilling them better than anyone else. Today, what is increasingly separating the winners from the losers in most of the industries is an organization’s ability to transform data into insights about customer’s motivations and how to turn those insights into strategy. So not so long ago, research and insights for a reactive service, nearly supplying data, interpreting it, and mostly reporting it to the marketing function or the business units. Today insight function is highly entrenched in strategy and increasingly taking high-level advisory role.

Andrew Newby: Thank you. Do you think and you alluded to it that, do you think CEOs truly understand the uses and power of insights or is it still seen from your experiences as a nice to have we’ve got that department that does the insights stuff but isn’t really seen as central as you’ve just said to strategy, to overall company strategy? How much do you still see that?

Aijaz Hussain: Yeah, it’s improving Andrew, right? So, more and more CEOs C-suite level conversations or board-level meetings really highlight some of the key trends and issues in this sector or their competition. Right? So, CEOs are really emphasizing the value that insights and thought leadership bring. And they understand that tomorrow, if they have to differentiate themselves from the competition, they will have to have a unique point of view, which kind of separates them from their peers. Right? So, there are several instances where across the industries where companies are trying to stand up, in sales functions making their own firm as well as providing more visibility as well as more focus on what they do in terms of bringing or shaping the strategy. So, it’s, as we speak, the transformation is happening,

Andrew Newby: Right. So just sort of getting down into some detail some insights. How do you think qualitative and quantitative research best work together to optimize insights and outcomes?

Aijaz Hussain: Yeah, that’s a great question. Right? So, what we are really seeing is both of them really are instrumental in driving your insights engine, right? So, qualitative and quantitative research are basically complimentary research methodologies, which either different forms of data. While quantitative research methods, such as surveys, gender numerical data, which can be used to produce statistics and identify patterns. Qualitative research materials, such as interviews or focus groups, help understand opinions and motivations to answer questions which cannot be quantified with numbers or through your quantitative research. As I said, what are important and effective to develop actionable insights and depending on the object too organizations and teams could decide whether they conduct qualitative or quantitative research, or both of them, right? Today quantitative research is frequently conducted online to reach a wider audience that is more likely to provide an accurate representation of the views of an entire population. Due to the technology available to researchers today, service can be conducted quickly and easily for what insights also, making it a popular opinion.

However, while quantitative research into objectively test a theory or measure the attitudes of your audience or target audience in response to a specific research object too there is often no for participants to explain the reasoning behind their responses, or even the participants individual interpretation of the question that you might ask. So, you get what I’m saying, right? So, this is qualitative research compliments the quantitative to research effectively. Rather than just the statistical and numerical measurements that describe the situation or the what, qualitative research focuses on the reasoning behind the actions of individuals and groups. That is the why, right? So, they capture the why through open-ended and exploratory questions. Other more qualitative research material such as focus groups on land research communities and forums allow the research participants, more freedom to provide in-depth answers and have a meaningful dialogue or discussions for more detail and informed insights. Obviously, the type of research a team undertakes will greatly affect the types of insights generated. So, attaining the knowledge of not only knowledge and working knowledge of both qualitative and quantitative research metrology is essential to plan and implement a successful insights program. Right? Moreover, of context is key in research and developing thought leadership, right? So, the insights gained from data collected through research will always be context dependent. And so, organizations must carefully report a difference the context in which they’ve gathered information as well as providing the insights. So, the narrative analysis must consider context carefully as a data collector by research is formulated into summaries. So finally, I’ll say this while it is okay to use only one type of research for a study, a data generated from this will never be able to provide the full picture. So, to develop an impactful and actionable research and have a kind of insights that is consistent with your point of view organizations and teams must provide both accurate and actionable insights. So, it requires them to integrate both qualitative and quantitative research methods. So, if I understand what I’m trying to say.

Andrew Newby: Sure. And as firstly the demand for instant insights or real-time insights rather increases. What are the ways in which agile market research is revolutionizing our companies capture insights today and how do they use them?

Aijaz Hussain: Yeah, I think that’s what we’re seeing quite a bit nowadays, right? So, there is emphasis on speed to analyze speed to market your insights, as well as speed to understand how your customers are behaving in different type markets. Right? So, when organizations apply agile software development methods such as into development process or some of the cutting-edge digital technologies, which you always hear about such as AI or automation into the research, they empower the teams to not only conceptualize and test and launch products or campaigns separately, but they can do it in a really cost effective manner, right? So, they’re extremely useful for mid-sized and small companies with limited resources who can leverage these agile market research methodologies to develop powerful capabilities for understanding consumer behavior, sizing the market, concept testing, developing new products, tracking their brand performance and whatnot.

So, they would really eliminate the need for external vendors or large internal resources to provide timely marketing sites. So, if I talk about the ways in which agile market research works, three things come to my mind, automation, AI, and use case specific software. So, allow me to explain this briefly, right? So first automated research platforms can carry out tasks such as project scoping, feasibility checks, price codes, and launching your research to a global survey panel at a click of a button. So, this helps organizations and resource streams to launch several projects at any given time. Second AI helps the market researchers make it smarter and well-rounded. Organizations can make changes to their surveys after receiving automatic recommendations from say an AI enabled survey assistant, right? So, machine learning, which turns on billions of surveys responses helps teams to launch professional level surveys even without having an in-depth knowledge of market research.

Andrew Newby: So, we don’t need researchers anymore?

Aijaz Hussain: We do need researchers because we need to or be able to really interpret what market research is saying, but you’re right. So, we might not need the level of researchers that we currently have today, right? So, when you invest in these digital technologies you eliminate some of the basic tasks that are being done manually or by people. So, it brings a real scale as well as effectiveness to your research.

Andrew Newby: Which of course adds to the requirement for us to be more imaginative and quicker in what we provide elsewhere?

Aijaz Hussain: Right. That’s correct. That’s correct. So, the last ways in which agile market assess works. Andrew, you believe if I can wrap this up is, is they use case specific software, which helps organizations and teams scale there is such a force easily, as some research mythologies are usually generate, right, and be replicated quickly. For instance, say you take a concept test. It likely remains the same both for testing a new product idea or a brand logo. So, you can use that use-case specific software to quickly replicate some of the best practices and then conduct your research expeditiously.

Andrew Newby: Thank you. So, with respect to sort of how surveys are evolving and bearing in mind that everyone does their stuff on mobiles and tablets nowadays, or is there any new trends sort of broad macro level in the way surveys are designed? So, have any changes or sort of adaptions to sort of current conditions?

Aijaz Hussain: Yeah, that’s my favorite topic too. Right? So, really the growth of marketers as technology, especially service has been exponential, right? So, you see every organization which research organization, or even a brand they are involved in any sort of at any given point of time, just because of the proliferation of the first technologies, right? So as a tool for conducting research, it continues to grow exponentially, especially it grow a lot in the past decade, thanks to the rise of social media and mobile devices. It became easier and faster for marketers such as to reach out to more people than they could have done without having access to these digital technologies or social media. So, this led to more generated insights and a better more comprehensive understanding of customers and with advancing technology and increased demand for human centered experiences there are also several developments which are happening in data collection. So, let’s quickly talk about some key trends which I kind of I’m observing which tends to create more personalized, attractive and user-friendly service. When is, as I said, it was all social media delivery, survey it was now having an option for social delivery?

So, while email has been an obvious traditional way to reach people in the past, it is not always the best way to stand out, to reach people with survey, right? Since people are hanging out on various social media channels more than ever before, organizations are using social sharing to contact respondents and kind of deliver that survey. So, the exact channel depends on where users can be formed organizations like consider using Facebook telegram or LinkedIn. Second more interactivity, until recently what I’ve observed is service used to deliver more standardized and static messages to respondents, right? This is turning faster. Messaging is being more personalized in reaction to the people who surveys. For using tools such as skip logic teams can tailor messages for different types of respondents and moreover with increasing importance on easy to navigate a UI and UX researchers are designing more beautiful service that don’t look boring and old-fashioned. Third from what later is personalized service in the vast service could not fit to every user because we didn’t have branching. That meant things were more generic but with modern features, with the technology that I talked about, people who answer certain questions differently can go down different questions, for that there are unique user experiences within the same survey.

So, making service more customized means organizations can target their audience with real precision. Finally, poll service, poll service feedback short and quick. These are those push buttons sometimes delivered on an iPad, right? Or those sorts of surveys. You also see them in stores that often ask one simple question, like, how was your experience, right? We just rate it on a scale of food to create, or sad face to happy face. So, poll service means that getting feedback does not always have to be time consuming audience and service can be quick and easy for both the creator and the responder. It’s an easy way to collect data all year round.

Andrew Newby: Do you think that data collection will ultimately become an exercise of very sophisticated social listening, which has been sort of on the rise since lockdown happened across the world, it has become much more important as a proportion of data collected? What’s your view on that and social listening and how that fits in with all aspects of agile research and how one designs surveys?

Aijaz Hussain: Absolutely. I think surveys will become a new instrument for social listening. They are already become to some extent, especially companies or organizations which are really very digitally savvy, right? So, they keep an eye here, I don’t know what consumers are consuming in terms of data, their opinions and attitudes are right. So, it’s a lot of, or your social media sites as well as your interactions online reveal a certain kind of traits or characteristics, which are very important for brands too right? Especially with the changing circumstances, how the demand will get impact from which region, which market, which segment, what are the changing preferences? If an organization that is not really able to understand what the consumer or the customers are saying they will really stay behind their competition, right? So, I think it is happening and as we discussed, organizations are paying attention to putting more emphasis on social listening to Andrew.

Andrew Newby: Right. So, just going to the sub-area and the sort of analytics side who’ve done that we’ve covered the data collection side and making services a lot quicker, more networked, more engaging and interesting and quicker to do things under the analytics side. What role does data is play in making very complex, often business trends, easy to understand, and how does data help in advising solutions to clients, everyone is supposed to use data there’s nowadays it’s so sexy, but is it really needed? And if so, where is it really optimal in its sort of effects?

Aijaz Hussain: Alright. Many of us would have heard the famous saying if picture is worth a thousand words, right? So, the data is presented in a pictorial or graphical format. It enables an organization clients and decision-makers to grasp difficult concepts, or insights make patents easily. So interactive data visualization teams can make that concept a step further by using technology to drill down into charts and graphs for more detail, which interactively changes what data is and how it is processed. So, the concept of using these visuals of pictures to understand data has been around for decades or even for centuries, right? So, it’s the technology however, that truly is leading the fire under data visualization. So, produce computers are making it possible to process large amounts of data at lightning fast speed and currently the organization has become a rapidly evolving blend of science and art that is transforming the research and insights landscape. So, with big data, there is potential for great opportunity but still many of the resistance seems to be a challenge when it comes to finding value in their big data investment. For example, how they can use big data to improve customer relations, customer relationships and how, and to what extent should they invest in big data? Right? So, my point is that because of the way the human brain processes information using charts or graphs to visualize large amounts of complex data just can be like in the form of spreadsheets or multiple spreadsheets of reports. Database is something which gets to the point, gets you to the point where you can clearly understand and make sense of the data, right?

So, it’s a quick, easy way to convey concepts in a universal manner. And one can experiment with different scenarios they make by making slight adjustments to identify areas that need attention or improvement, clarify which factors influence customer behavior, help understand which products to place where, and also predict sales volume using this or other analysis. So, basically by using a graphical representation of business information businesses can see large amounts of data and clear cohesive base and draw conclusions from that information. So even extensive amounts of complicated data start to make sense when present geographically, so businesses can recognize better meters that are highly correlated, right? So, it’s very important from a research and insight function standpoint that they use data to discuss trends more in a particular business or in the market, which can give them an edge over the competition and ultimately affect the bottom line.

Andrew Newby: So, you know, lots of companies have CDOs where they didn’t use to, and everyone is in love with data. I guess all that is sort of great, but if you don’t have the right business objectives and marketing strategy that, you know, it can all go to North. So just pulling back a bit and trying to think of it as a broader picture, I guess. So, you know, we’ve seen very dramatic changes in markets and indeed in everything at the moment shifting organizations, business objectives, and as a result, the marketing strategies audiences primarily market is for this podcast. So large thought leadership programs kind of become misaligned. So what steps are required in your opinion to realign the two business objectives and marketing strategy to make sure that they, they marry up with business needs.

Aijaz Hussain: Yeah, this is a very timely question pertinent to what we’re seeing in the market place, right? So thought leadership is very particularly important to an organization’s success and for building a sustainable competitive advantage, especially during tough times. SO as the global economy deals with the downturn that they see, many organizations will likely focus on survival rather than bringing new ideas or solutions to tap into future growth markets, right? Prioritizing thought leadership during tough times can be a tricky proposition as most company resources are allocated to other business areas that need immediate attention, but even while firefighting organizations can plan for creating long-term value by looking at the bigger picture, right? So, an effective thought leadership strategy did not be about the amount of dollars or euros spent, but rather how it gets spent efficiently. So, it’s, while it’s tempting to cut your marketing costs and scaling back some of your thought leadership during periods of economic slowdown and restrictions but I would say it’s a questionable strategy, right? So, during the times of change that we’re seeing like the one right now, it’s more important than ever to remember that loyal customers are the primary enduring source of cashflow and organic growth. So, the marketing isn’t an optional cost, in fact, it’s a good cost, one which is crucial to bringing in revenues from your customers, right?

So therefore, organizations should keep creating, engaging, and insightful content or risk losing influence or their markets and customers. If they don’t into this a bit, what we find is that general crisis businesses tend to adopt a pause, wait, and watch approach. In my view, this approach could potentially erode an organizations difference in our competitive advantage and could even damage their brand in some cases, right? So, leaders should regard, leadership first of all, be cognizant about it and should regard thought leadership as essential part of their strategy that helps brands to engage top decision makers and support their broader commercial and marketing goals. So, they should realize that providing genuine insights that cut through the clutter as a real lasting impact on its audience primarily and customers. So, to your question, how could organizations realign with thought leadership, right? So, they could realign with thought leadership with their business needs, considering it as a long-term investment, which provides higher ROI and helps grow its facts. So marketing and different leaders could educate an organization’s senior leadership and position it as one, the principal source of innovative ideas and thinking. Second a conduit to deliver knowledge to its customers in a way which is compelling and actionable. And finally, if I must say if I can say an they could position it as an effective tool, which reinforces brand as a go-to provider of solutions to today’s biggest business problems.

So therefore, by providing in-depth insight and expertise on the issues that are reshaping, say the global economy or industries, organizations can continue to attract customers to turn to them for new perspectives and expert advice on the challenges they face. So, by linking or tying thought leadership to overall strategy organizations can continue to push fresh research and insights into topics that customers care about, right. Especially in that environment, which you’re seeing, which can help build its reputation as a leader in that particular sector, which will not only strengthen your brand, but also leads to positive commercial outcomes. So yeah, so that’s how companies can really focus and realign their strategy, which kind of focuses a lot on thought leadership, right? Obviously tough times means that you need to be cognizant of cost, but one must regard this cost as an essential important cost, which will provide long-term ROI optimization.

Andrew Newby: Right? So, in summary you say anyone in charge of thought leadership budgets, hold your nerve, engage your customers and show your sales as solution providers and in that way, differentiate your brand and add value.

Aijaz Hussain: Absolutely.

Andrew Newby: Okay. So, say comprehensive changes are made to thought leadership campaign, it’s all well-funded and so on. Things such as hypotheses research scope, or just general contact activation if these things have changed that presumably alter the outcomes you get, and presumably that feeds back to the favorable outcomes we’ve just been mentioned. So, these adjustments probably might not align with what was agreed initially with management and or, and clients. So just to end some of our discussion, what are your thoughts on how best to manage this realignment sort of the new order sort of, you know, sort of reactivating thought leadership programs in a sustainable way, particularly in the climate?

Aijaz Hussain: Right. So, as a context before I can answer this very effectively, I think one must understand tha it’s not just enough to publish a few thought-leadership reports and hold that establishes a business’s intellectual brand, right? So, organizations must understand that to live the benefit of thought leadership content, they need a sustained strategy focusing on topics or content where they have something fresh and compelling to say, and continuously drive those campaigns that engage and inspire their audience. Right? So thought leadership must realize that it is an organization wide activity, which requires and takes constant input from all the functions and specialists and this one, which is ongoing and long-term, right? So, when organizations make comprehensive changes to their thought leadership campaign, it might conflict with their strategy and brand, right? So, they can avoid this by evaluating whether they are risking credibility with clients, by making changes to their content strategy, as clients might be reaching to them because they built expertise in certain topics and that is where the differentiator in the marketplace. Let me explain this with an example, right? If an organization is known for its expertise in supply chain and the potential client is looking to expand its supply chain, the client might be looking for a firm which the best thought leadership about digital supply networks, right before they expand their supply network.

So therefore, producing high quality thought leadership can generate leads for growing revenues in areas where you want to grow your business. But if there is no focus, if you make changes to your thought leadership campaign, or even to the major research studies organization might lose business as well as sometimes hard the brand itself. Right? So, because you’re all over the place, there is no focus. So, realizing that there’s a strong connection between a firm thought leadership with its customers, its brand and financial performance is crucial in making any unwarranted changes or any changes, which kind of make you stayed away from your focus or stay away from what you’re known best in the market place.

Andrew Newby: By just you saying thank you very much for your time and insights today. Thank you.

Aijaz Hussain: Thanks Andrew. It was a pleasure. I look forward to many such conversations in the future. Have a good day.

Andrew Newby: Likewise. Thank you so much.

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