2021: tech-led market research becomes core focus

By Frederic Charles Petit, CEO, Toluna
Frederic Charles Petit, CEO, Toluna reflects on the year 2020, as well as discussing his predictions for 2021...

2020 will be remembered as one of the most unparalleled and unpredictable years the global economy has ever witnessed. While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to create disruption across the board, businesses in every sector have been forced to adapt to ever changing and growing challenges.

As businesses continue to navigate these turbulent times and plan for the future, market research powered by new advancements in technology focused on agility and real-time data collection has emerged as a must-have tool for every organization, large and small. 2020 clearly showed us how critical it is for businesses to have real-time insight into consumer sentiment and behaviors. They must understand how to leverage that intelligence to help predict what consumers will want and need in-the-moment and into the future, recognize how this will affect their business operations, and most importantly, help guide them in how to communicate with their most important stakeholders - the customers. 

During one of the worst global health crises and corresponding economic downturns we’ve experienced, businesses turned to technology-led market research tools to quickly understand changing consumer behavior by tapping into real time consumer insights. Change is constant, and we are now in a period of prolonged change that is in the spotlight daily. That means it’s more crucial than ever that businesses can regularly gauge consumer perceptions, sentiment and actions to drive true data-driven decision-making and best position themselves for success in 2021. 

Armed with 2020’s lessons learned on the pivotal role market research plays across all industries, businesses must learn from their experiences, educate themselves fully on the benefits consumer insights can offer to their organization and in what ways, and have a plan to use it effectively. It’s important that every leader takes on board the following advice to not only navigate through the COVID-19 storm but position themselves to thrive following the pandemic.

Agility is key 

Whether a business is fighting for survival or experiencing growth, agility is the fundamental quality that can both offer organizations a lifeline and bolster already stable companies, propelling them to even greater success.

In 2021 business leaders must be able to respond quickly and appropriately to a fast-changing environment as they continue to question the dogma of yesterday to tactically adapt to today’s decision-making process. No CEO will have the luxury to take months to make a decision; they will need to act in days, if not hours. This ability will be fed by regular access to valuable in-the-moment and longitudinal insights. 

Technology and automation

Technology and automation are the critical drivers in market research, and this will become ever more apparent in 2021. The pandemic closed a 60-year chapter in market research; those that had the foresight immediately shifted to lead the industry through technology. 

The major players in market research will need to step up their game and demonstrate why market research is as vital to a business as any other growth or profitability tool. The pandemic reinforced why brands must keep their finger on the pulse and constantly stay in touch with consumers. 2020 accelerated this shift and in 2021 we’ll see the market research industry become truly automated and technology led. So many industries have benefited from automation, technology and more broadly AI. Research is no different. 

Emphasis on innovation and quality

The past year dramatically accelerated technology advancements and pushed many projects that had been in the pipeline to completion; 2021 will see a continued prioritization and execution of innovation developments. Businesses will make greater investments of time, trust and budget into cutting edge market research tools that take on the lift of conducting research and ensure quality results.

Market disruption in 2020 highlighted technology’s role in empowering quick pivots – and that brands need to leverage market research technology that has quality at the core; it will be the key to streamlining workflows, instilling trust and differentiating from the competition. Technology has the power to execute what a traditional research team can, faster and with fewer resources - and clever organizations recognize that creating and leaning on sophisticated technology is the best way to adapt to a changing market. Projects previously planned and tested for months and years are coming to market ahead of schedule to help organizations evolve to meet their customers’ needs. 

The need for innovation and technology transformation in market research shows no sign of stagnation in 2021. Automated market research with quality and methodology baked in will reap great rewards for businesses – and push the industry towards a technology-driven, innovative future. 

Heightened duality of research

Automation ensures anyone can use tools that have simplicity and quality at the core, and highly customized research solutions can often leave questions around quality and standardization. At the same time, many companies still prefer to use their own unique methodologies. 

The lasting pace of 2020 market disruption will see businesses require the ease, quality and scalability of automated market research templates that also allow them to bake in their own methodologies to stay differentiated in 2021 and beyond. 


Integration will be a huge theme next year as businesses will need to seamlessly harmonize their strongest partners. They don’t want to give up any of their tools, but they will want their tools to speak to each other and with the technology they’ve built in house. 

As the pandemic accelerates time-to-market for new products, businesses will look to solutions that remove the guesswork of integration, and the call for end-to-end consumer insight solutions will be loud and clear. This is the time where market research will raise the game and choosing the right research partner will prove crucial.

As businesses across the globe tear up their five-year growth plans, agility, responsiveness and the need to quickly adapt will push market research to the forefront of their focus. Knowing exactly what customers want and when they want it in real time - as opposed to waiting weeks or months - will enable organizations to remain relevant to their consumers.  

The decision and actions businesses make in 2021 will be informed and backed up by data. It’s this real time data and insight that will be the golden ticket which helps businesses create opportunity, drive growth and ensure prosperity in challenging and difficult times. 

For more information on business topics in Europe, Middle East and Africa please take a look at the latest edition of Business Chief EMEA.

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