From “Marketing Research” to “Marketing Information” in 2020

In his blog post of October 24, 2010, Ian Lewis talks about his vision for marketing research in the year 2020.  He believes that the continued growth in technology will result in the “digitization of everything” which will result in a “paradigm shift” in marketing research tools and techniques.  And in 10 years the “leading-edge companies will address 80% of their marketing issues by ‘fishing the river’ of information.”  Fishing, as in mining clicks, blogs, communities, videos, anything and anywhere people virtually connect.

Fishing is a great metaphor because it captures the spirit of what Lewis is talking about.  In this world of 2020, research will be about looking for something in a round-about way or groping for something you can’t see.  Fishing.  You can sit on the bank, cast your line in the water, and hope the conditions are right for hooking the size-quantity-type of fish you need to make a nice meal.  And if the fish aren’t biting, you simply drop your line in another spot.

The fishing expedition of 2020 is round-about in that we will have little or no knowledge of what we will find, where we will find it, and, most importantly, if what we find has any meaning at all.  But the meaning of our catch may be irrelevant if, as Lewis states, the 2020 research world is fishing for information – lots and lots of information.  And given the very large virtual pool (river, ocean) that will certainly be available in 10 years, fishermen and fisherwomen will have a near-endless supply of fish to hook.

I also like the fishing metaphor because maybe it portends a future where marketing researchers (and their clients) stop pretending to conduct research guided by specific design principles and admit that their mission is to gain as much information as possible in the shortest amount of time (to meet the fast-paced world of marketing) and, most likely, with the smallest number of dollars spent.  In 2020, understanding the underlying nuances of behavior and attitudes at an individual level will fall away to listening and seeing in the public arena.  Listening and seeing but not really knowing.

So maybe in 2020 we will finally change our nomenclature from “marketing research” to “marketing information,” and “marketing researchers” will become “marketing information specialists.”  And this sometimes difficult marriage of marketing and research will finally dissolve – to cut bait as it were – so that each can go separate ways.


  1. I like the fishing metaphor as well, but for some of the negatives about fishing:
    – You can’t be sure what you will catch.
    – You might not leave with a meal (i.e., an answer to the question that you are researching).

    Even as the ponds become well stocked, there’s going to be a need to do more than fish social media: agriculture, cultivating customers as survey respondents, will remain an important technique.


  2. There is no doubt that the digitisation of marketing and life in general has lead to a paradigm shift for the market research industry.

    The old rules of striving for reliability and validity of measurement through research and sample design have had to give way to the appeal of high speed and relatively low cost of digital alternatives to gathering marketing information. The rapid growth in the adoption of social media monitoring and on-line market research communities are two examples of how this shift is already happened.

    By 2020, one can only assume the need for speed and the ability to make sense of and integrate data from sources such social analytic platforms, web-analytic technologies, customer data warehouses and transaction systems will push market research as we know it, even further to the periphery of marketing decision-making and strategy.


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