AI: Friend or foe to market researchers?

By Ed Keller, Executive Director, MRII

No topic has captured the imagination of the business community in general—and market research and insights professionals, specifically—more than AI. It dominates the agenda at industry conferences. Huge sums are being invested by research agencies and brands to deploy AI strategies for their enterprises. Trade associations around the world are providing guidance to their membership about best practices for deploying AI safely, effectively and ethically. 

“AI in Focus: Market Researchers Weigh in on Workplace Impact for Today and Tomorrow,” a newly released report from MRII, takes a different, more personal perspective on the impact of AI. We surveyed a global sample of market research professionals to understand what they think about AI, the impact it is having on them, and their views about its future. The results are fascinating and can serve as a guide to leaders in our industry about the ways their workforce is thinking about AI—as well as for researchers who want to benchmark their views against their peers.

Here are five key findings shared in our ”AI in Focus” report:

1. A positive view of AI in the workplace

    When we launched the survey, I had no idea whether people working in our industry would find AI to be exhilarating or threatening. The results are quite positive. Three-quarters of market researchers have a “very” or “mostly” favorable view of AI as it relates to their job and their company! And an equally large majority believe it will make their job better.  A very small number (10%) believe it will make their job worse.

    As one respondent, from a market research agency, put it, “Over the next 2 years, I think AI is going to explode! I’d like it to become my trusty research assistant. I think it will make my job better.  I hope so.”

    Another said it this way, “The goal is to have AI doing some of that upfront heavy lifting where we sometimes have to get into the weeds. It would allow us to raise up a level and really see the forest through the trees and provide more strategic recommendations to our clients. To me it could elevate the entire industry.” To see more interviews from the study on YouTube, go here.

    Relatively few respondents are concerned about personal job loss from AI. Only 4% say they are very concerned about that, whereas a 60% majority are not at all concerned.

    2. A minority are currently using AI; corporate researchers lag those in agencies.

      Four in ten researchers are currently using AI.  Fifteen percent (15%) say that “most” members of their teams are using, while 25% say “some” are. Usage is far greater today among researchers from agencies/consultancies (47%) versus corporate researchers (25%).

      The key uses right now are literature reviews and report generation, although each is used by only a third or so of respondents.

      3. AI power users point us toward the future

        Looking at the results of the 15% who said that most of their team is using AI helps us see where the future might lie. These power users of AI today are far more likely (2X+) to be using it for a broad range of use cases:

        • Literature reviews (63%, vs. 34% for the total)
        • Questionnaire development (55% vs. 20%)
        • Report generation (55% vs. 30%)
        • Sentiment analysis (45% vs. 21%)
        • Large data analysis (41% vs. 21%)

        One area that is low today for both but may well grow over time is detecting respondent fraud (35% vs. 17%). 

        And when it comes to their expectations about positive AI contributions, the power users are far more likely than the sample as a whole to talk about things like:

        • Analysis and data processing efficiency (+11 pts)
        • Streamlining or automating report writing (+10 pts)
        • Improved insights (+15 pts)
        • Better data integration and harmonization (+24 pts)

        4. Researchers are clear-eyed, seeing both the pros and concerns about AI

          Market researchers are positive overall about AI. The biggest positive impacts researchers feel AI can make to their work are time savings in routine research tasks (78%), enhanced efficiency for things like data processing and analysis (77%) and streamlined report generation (65%).   

          Once again, the power users are ahead of the sample as a whole, including both top-tier benefits of AI, such as analysis and data processing efficiency (+11 pts versus the total) and streamlining or automating report writing (+10 pts), as well as for some items that are lower on the list of positive for the same as a whole, such as improved insights (+15 pts) and better data integration and harmonization (+24 pts).

          Just because power users are generally positive toward AI, doesn’t mean they are blind to the potential negatives. Some of the top areas of concern are potential bias in AI algorithms impacting accuracy (71%), data privacy and security concerns (60%), AI dependency replacing human judgment (57%) and ethical concerns about AI-driven research practices (54%). Power users agree that potential bias and privacy are causes for concern at similar levels; they are somewhat less concerned at AI dependency replacing human judgment and ethical concerns.

          This market researcher summarized the pluses and minuses by saying, “I think it’s got both positive and negative. So, I’m conflicted. On the positive side, it will streamline and speed up some stuff. On the negative side, the whole idea of hallucinations (e.g., AI perceives patterns that are nonexistent, creating nonsensical or inaccurate outputs), not controlling for privacy of data, and how reliance on AI will impact our younger researcher’s ability to critically think worries me.”

          5. Strong support for training on AI

            While a minority are actually using AI today, a strong 57% majority of respondents believe they and their teams would benefit from training about AI, ranking it among the top two training priorities—data visualization is the other.

            MRII’s “AI in Focus” report reveals hope for a brighter research future with AI

            The overall optimism about the future of AI is summarized by one of our respondents, an insights client, this way:

            “Hopefully, AI will make our jobs easier in 2 years. I want to get to that place where I’m not spending time consolidating secondary sources and have AI do that so I can spend more time on the strategic development. For example, if it were up to me, people in the company could do an AI query and remove me so I’m not just a data collector and gatherer. AI would synthesize research for them for the high-level view. From there, I’d be involved in strategic planning. That’d be my dream scenario.” 

            To download a copy of the full report, click here.

            You can view more of the qualitative interviews on YouTube here.

            Thank you to our research partner for this project, QuestionPro, and our qualitative team at Brand Riffs.

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