After 18 months of virtual interactions due to COVID-19, market researchers and industry insiders reconnected in-person this month in sunny Pasadena, California, for SampleCon 2021. Held at the luxurious resort, “The Langham,” it was the best way to bring the conference back and regain a sense of normalcy. Key Takeaways from SampleCon From day one, you could hear and feel the excitement of new trends in the online sample industry. The consensus – business is good.
If passenger volume at airports across America is any indication, domestic travel in the U.S. is rebounding from the pandemic, a hopeful sign that COVID-19 is in our rearview. But it’s not just air travel that winks at a return to normalcy. Millions of Americans are vaccinated, and the majority of states have lifted restrictions. Madison Square Garden, for example, experienced its first sold out concert since the onset of the pandemic when the Foo Fighters took to the stage on June 20th to play for vaccinated fans, an impressive feat considering New York’s struggle to contain the virus in 2020. Other industries are powering back as well, like the online sample industry.
After months of uncertainty, many Americans are cautiously optimistic about saying farewell to COVID-19. Mask mandates have either expired or are set to expire soon, and vaccines are available to anyone ages 12 and older who wants one. Slowly, the country is starting to awaken, and with it, sample companies are assessing where we go from here. For 15 months, the online sample industry adapted its business strategy to the pandemic reality. Traditional in-person focus groups shifted online, and online surveys were the gold standard.
The concept of “do-it-yourself” may bring to mind images of re-tiling the bathroom floor or reseeding the lawn. But DIY goes far beyond home improvement projects. About five years ago, online do-it-yourself sample tools began trending. Sample companies would create these tools for clients at little to no charge to facilitate sample buying. However, it wasn’t long before clients realized, like many of us who’ve tried to tile a floor, it may look easy, but looks can be deceiving.
A few years ago, the concept of autonomous vehicles captivated consumers. While the technology has progressed tremendously, most self-driving experiences are still limited to driver assistance, partial automation, or conditional automation. Innovation develops over time. Compare that to the emergence of mobile sample. Ten years ago, it was the most significant innovation in the online sample industry. Mobile sample was discussed in every conference from 2010 to 2016. Despite the buzz, however, mobile sample didn’t immediately catch on. The technology existed, but brands resisted the change in survey methodology. But that started to change in 2017.
Bitcoin was introduced to the world in 2009 and has since seeped its way into the mainstream media. It’s grown into the world’s largest cryptocurrency despite a history of volatility. Among those in the know, investors and brands alike, the Bitcoin market is booming right now. Tesla recently purchased $1.5 billion worth of Bitcoin and announced that it would start taking Bitcoin as payments for its cars. In partnership with BlockFi, Visa released the first Bitcoin Rewards credit card and plans to offer additional cryptocurrency products in the future. Not to be outdone, Amazon announced they are in the early stages of developing their own cryptocurrency that consumers can use to purchase products and services on their platform.
Last year around this time, I published “The State of the Union – Privacy Law’s Impact on the Sample Industry” sharing my views on how privacy legislation impacted the sample industry in 2019. Since then, the world has radically changed. A worldwide pandemic sparked a global health crisis. Social and political unrest upended the status-quo, and Joe Biden was elected the 46th President of the United States. The election was so bitterly contested that it resulted in a violent attack by extremists on the U.S. Capitol. Many are wondering how we can collectively move forward.
Spotify, Facebook, Netflix, and Amazon are some of the world's most successful tech companies. They all share a common denominator – a subscription-based business model that requires users to input personal information to opt-in. Once connected, users can stream their favorite music and movies, buy and sell in the online marketplace, and engage on social media. Each interaction creates data points that feed algorithms and appeal to advertisers. Similarly, today’s online sampling platforms are constructed from the data provided by subscriptions. Due to the high quantity of customer impressions available online, the insights gathered far surpass older, manual sourcing methods like cold calls and government-sourced lists. As technology continues to evolve, online sample providers will need to incorporate these platforms and other innovative web-based methods into their toolkits to stay competitive amid the uncertainty of a rapidly changing market. However, in my experience, there are a few essentials needed when building an online sampling platform that will not change no matter how much technology advances (at least for the next few decades). In Subscription-Based Models, Email is King. Email has endured the test of time and is almost always required when subscribing to any platform. While some marketers blast the masses via email, savvy marketers leverage email’s personalization capabilities to facilitate more individualized experiences. We see this play out as more companies shift away from transactional customer relationships to value-based ones that come with a monthly commitment and customized content. This is excellent news for the sample industry, which has come to rely on data from the tech giants (Google and Facebook) for panel recruitment. When creating an online panel, always give the person the option to subscribe with an email address. People are more
It’s common for many of us to feel as if we have no biases. To make that assumption, however, would be woefully incorrect and naive. The hard truth is that we are human, and our cultural biases make their way into every aspect of our lives, including our work. If you’re doing market research, that’s a bitter pill to swallow. We like to think of ourselves as some of the least biased people in business. We are more aware of consumer behaviors and the psychological implications of marketing messages. Nonetheless, unconscious bias often creeps into our research design. It’s not all doom and gloom, though.
So far, 2020 has been one for the record books. A worldwide pandemic and subsequent shelter in place orders are causing sharp spikes in online streaming and mobile search activity as consumers seek ways to stay healthy, entertained, and informed. And in recent weeks, the public outcry against social injustice resounds on the tips of the tongues of protesters, as they hit the streets and take to social media to express their outrage and find community. Taken collectively, these rapid shifts in consumer behavior are fast-tracking digital trends and accelerating the push for digital research methodologies to understand the dynamics driving these behaviors.