Research in the Digital Age: Follow the Yellow Brick Road - Shelley Zalis

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Cover image for  article: Research in the Digital Age: Follow the Yellow Brick Road - Shelley Zalis

Originally published: 4/27/2011

There is only one way to Emerald City...and it is definitely not the road most taken. The yellow brick road to the land of OZ was a meandering, interactive, and changing path every step of the way...

Just as the tornado turned Dorothy's life upside down, the equivalent force is blowing through our market research industry right now. It is clear that we are not in Kansas anymore! But unlike our iconic heroine, we can not just click our ruby slippers and go home...we are never going back from whence we came. As digital agency execs Kelly Mooney and Nita Rollins note in The Open Brand, which investigates how social media is transforming marketing and branding, "The prevalence and impact of consumer-driven activities, particularly online, are changing the shape of the consumer journey."

In parallel to the communications, publishing and music industries, researchers are no longer "in control". We need to break old conventions of hierarchal, insular and protected information and find ways to be more "open source," accessible and shared while at the same time, maintaining security and confidentiality in an open information world. If we are to discover the insights our clients need to navigate through the digital landscape, researchers must become active listeners, create communities for co-creation, and avid users of the new tools that allow for collaboration and ongoing dialogue with our consumers.

The digital ecosystem, constantly changing, refuses to sit still while we conduct our business as usual. As the saying goes, "You can't do today's job with yesterday's methods and be in business tomorrow." In a landscape in which Facebook—now including roughly one out of every 12 people on the planet, at least half of whom log in every day—is essentially the largest online panel. It is almost self-evident that the boundary between real life, online and brands has disappeared. Market research needs to move in a seismic way from strictly linear research to immersive research utilizing digital tools to best understand these new twists in our yellow brick road.

Social media has become an immensely powerful tool that has transformed our industry overnight. Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith highlight how we can unite the incredible power of social media, marketing strategy and consumer psychology to deliver social change if we work in concert. In their book, The Dragonfly Effect, they compare the dragonfly to the potential impact of social media when working in harmony. They highlight that "the dragonfly is the only insect capable of moving in any direction with incredible speed and force when its wings are working in concert."

So, for all of us market researchers, the message is clear: we must deliver our four wings in concert to realize "tornado" results....engage consumers through pull, foster dialogue, communicate transparently, and most importantly...listen!

There are many twists and turns in our yellow brick road to the land of OZ especially when we consider how many actions a person can take in today's digital's almost mind-boggling. Consumers have so many ways to connect with brands from uploading pictures, joining panels, rating products, embedding widgets, e-commerce, live chatting, content mashing, product bookmarking, blogging, tweeting, and viral sharing....

So welcome to the marketing version of Oz. The Yellow Brick Road may be daunting, but the good news is digital technology allows for better market research. We will need to think differently and learn new ways of getting where we want to go. So let's have courage like the lion....and be off to see the wizard!

Shelley Zalis has over 25 years of experience working in traditional marketing and advertising research companies. In early 2000, Shelley Zalis founded OTX, which in nine years has grown to become a top 18 global research agency, with offices in Los Angeles, New York, Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, and London. In March 2010, OTX was acquired by Ipsos. Shelley now leads the Ipsos Global Innovation Center. Shelley can be reached at

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