Predictably Unpredictable: The Insights World in 2021

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We are at a time of year when we are typically looking forward to the new beginnings that come with a new year.  And with that comes the inevitable inquiries from press and industry publications to do what research agencies are asked to do: Make Predictions.

After each and every surprise that 2020 has thrown at us, it strikes me that the first prediction has got to be that it’s foolish to make predictions! But learning from this past year, let me tempt fate and predict three trends that will be true in the insights industry in 2021:

The world was already DIGITIZING fast and COVID-19 accelerated this trend exponentially. In 2021, there will be no slowing down or turning back the digital tide– those in the insights industry who thrive will be the client-side departments and agencies who successfully embrace a digital-first mindset. In terms of the capability to answer digital business questions, such as those that address e-commerce and the challenge of an omnichannel shopper journey, we must adopt scalable digital technologies that facilitate the discovery of value-additive insights more credibly, speedily and efficiently.

At a time of huge ongoing unpredictability, a foundational BEHAVIORAL understanding of how human beings and consumers make decisions has never been more important. No matter the digital or physical context, leveraging observed behavior will continue to provide an imperative anchor point for each and every client-side department and agency. While we rapidly enhance our capabilities to address digital business questions and digitize the delivery of insights, it will be more crucial than ever to remember the fundamentals that behavioral science continues to teach us about why the people we’re studying behave the way they do. There have never been so many ways to observe consumers, but without a behavioral model, agencies will be hard-pressed to provide reliable recommendations on ways to influence their choices.

In the insights industry, most of us, as researchers, abhor uncertainty. We seek robustness in the data on which we base interrogation and conduct thorough analysis to support making recommendations. But 2020 has reminded us that this is a persistently uncertain world in which our clients must now make decisions. Perhaps then, the most profound prediction I might make could be that, in 2021, those of us in the insights industry will need to embrace UNCERTAINTY. We need to adapt our mindsets with relentless flexibility to meet our clients amidst their rapidly evolving challenges. Failing that, we surrender the right to contribute in their business cycles that operate within such uncertain context.  More importantly, if we don’t adapt in this way, we won’t be invited to continue as the trusted insights partners we all strive to be!

These are not bad things.  In fact, we should have embraced these challenges, even if we hadn’t experienced what was one of the most unexpected years in my, and many of your, business lives.   Meeting 2021 with optimism and resolve can only serve to make us better partners to clients and brands who deserve nothing less. I suspect we will continue to see challenges in the early days of the new year, but with adaptability, ingenuity, and creativity, we are up to the task.

My best wishes to all who take the time to read this last post of the year. We are humbled by the support of loyal clients and grateful for the heroic efforts of our staff and partners. Above all, we at PRS IN VIVO wish you and your families good health as we close out the year and look forward to a better 2021!

Alex Hunt is the CEO of Behaviorally (formerly PRS) and provided this blog post in December 2020 when he was serving as CEO of PRS IN VIVO USA.
Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexHunt84 or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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