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February 20, 2012

Is market research breathing its last? Well, the smart phone isn't helping.

Posted by Anup Uppadhayay (View Profile | View All Posts) at 3:22 PM

If technology has influenced anything, it has perhaps had its greatest impact on our patience. A Google research team recently has confirmed that we humans cannot stand waiting. And our patience is wearing thinner every nanosecond. People will visit a website less often if it is slower, than a close competitor, by more than 250 milliseconds (a millisecond is a thousandth of a second).

The mobile phone, or rather the smart phone, with all its apps, and all its capabilities has contributed to this phenomenon. We're checking for directions on our phones; we're looking for the nearest gas station or restaurant; we're shopping; we're banking, and we're even buying and selling stocks. And we are only getting started.

What we call the anatomy of demand has shifted into a simple directive for most businesses.  Today's customers want everything now.  So we've seen a tectonic shift in demand that requires understanding three distinct elements:  "Sensing" demand, "Influencing" demand, and "Fulfilling" that demand.

To sense demand, companies are no longer relying on market research and focus groups - not because they are unreliable, but because they are not producing results fast enough.  Customers, with mobile phones, are so adept at exchanging information at such a rapid rate that demand can become viral before a vendor even knows it.

When that 17 something high-schooler buys a gadget, he does not rely on vendor literature. He makes his decision without "speaking" to anyone. He, instead, goes online, consults friends, reads reviews from peers and experts. He makes up his mind before he actually sees the phone. To check for deals and discounts he goes to a Milo local search on his mobile to get the best possible one. Instantly, he announces his deal to the world at large.

Business can get instant real-time feedback in ways they never dreamed because customers are "checking in" to locales with mobile apps like Foursquare.  With Foursquare, friends share information about everything from restaurant menus to sporting events to retail outlets.  Companies can get feedback from "instant reviews."  They can feel the pulse of their customers and potential customers at almost any time.

Traditional methods have no opportunity to influence the behavior of consumers and markets, before or after the product or service launch. What must we do differently to "influence' the markets of tomorrow?

Businesses have discovered they can use social media to target market their products and services in ways that increase sales.  Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn - almost every influential website - now is easily accessible via mobile technology.  Smart markets can choose special outlets to make sure their message is getting to the right places.  A lot of thought must go into the first point of customer contact - the "home screen" - because it can make or break a new product.

In fulfilling demand, we normally think of logistics and supply-chain management on a global basis.  But the smart phone has done this in ways that have astonished end users.  Doctors can transmit important test results - blood pressure, blood sugar levels - to their patients in minutes rather than days. Who would have thought you could use a cell phone to get access to cash?  But, we provide cash -with ATM-like security - to the half of the world's customers that do not have access to banks.

There is a lot of power and influence within our cell phones.  They are indelibly etched in our lifestyles.  What we do next with them is only bound by our imagination.  So let's keep imagining...and fast... because the world is in a hurry.

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