Embracing the Unknown: AI and Market Research

By Roy Sadaka, Director of Machine Learning, and Orli Langerman, Director at Toluna

Learn how AI is disrupting and reshaping market research while prompting questions about embracing a transformative future.

Image by: Mix and Match Studio, Abdu ezzurghi – Shutterstock

Sometimes when we sit down for our morning coffee, scrolling through the news on our phones, courtesy of an algorithm that seems to know us better than we know ourselves, we are struck by a sense of wonder.

The world around us is evolving at an unprecedented pace, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is at the heart of this transformation. It used to be about increasingly smarter phones, notifications, and home assistants, but lately there has been a fundamental shift in how we can interact with language, technology—and maybe even the world around us.

The real buzz around AI is not just hype. The reality is that generative AI has the potential to reshape every industry and is already disrupting ways of working in healthcare, education, fashion design, communications and more.

As market researchers fuelled with AI enthusiasm, we are intrigued by the potential disruption this might bring, making us ponder the questions: How will AI redefine our work and our world? Should it?

Let’s go back to basics:

The market research field is built on the collection, analysis, and interpretation of human feedback. We delve into the minds of consumers, seeking to understand their behaviour, preferences, and opinions. It’s an interplay of questions and responses that has been largely driven by humans.

We spend years crafting surveys, analysing data and developing and communicating insights and recommendations. And there’s beauty in the unpredictability of human responses. Yet as AI capabilities evolve and expand exponentially, we ask ourselves: Are we approaching a time when AI tools can return human opinions without the need to conduct interviews or host focus groups?

Large Language Models (LLMs) trained on vast amounts of data from human communication allow us to extract, classify and summarize the meanings in human language, which may enable a “shift from insights to wisdom.”

And a shift of this nature demands that the industry re-evaluates existing systems and approaches. Are we ready?

As we tackle these challenges at Toluna…

…we return to the drawing board to rethink every step from questionnaire creation to reaching niche markets, from diving deeper into analysing data to simulating “what if” scenarios, generating insights and more. Here’s what we see:

First, we expect the traditional survey model with its discrete and static questions and responses will give way to a more dynamic, conversational approach—facilitated by AI.

Second, we are planning for a world in which those conversations will sometimes occur with real humans, sometimes with virtual panellists—digital reflections of real human characteristics—and sometimes with a hybrid mix of both. One future scenario might be utilizing real humans for validation or high-risk business decisions, and virtual panellists for ideation, hypothesis generation, scenario planning, or even lower-risk business decisions.

And third, new tools for analysis and interpretation will allow clients and researchers to embrace the fluidity of conversational research, the flexibility of using virtual panellists, and the unparalleled freedom to explore data in new ways.

Will our industry embrace such large-scale change—including virtual panellists or personas? We say: yes. Naysayers said the shift to online surveys from telephone and face-to-face would fail! Purists initially said DIY and agile research produced junk. And yet today we work in an industry where online research dominates offline, and where DIY and agile approaches are now part of our market research toolkits.

Toluna is excited about the future. The future of market research will be even more dynamic, fluid and AI-powered than ever before. Now is the time to embrace change and obtain a competitive advantage to lap those who lag behind.

We’re revving the engines… fasten your seatbelts.

For more information about how Toluna is holistically approaching the integration of AI, check out Roy’s presentation from our Simply Smart event last year which you can find here.

This article was first published in the Q2 2024 edition of Asia Research Media

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