The Critical Role of Market Research in 2021: Experts Weigh In

market research trends 2021The COVID-19 crisis has shaken up the global economy and left many industries reeling. In this volatile business environment, what role will market research play across different sectors?

I asked a variety of market research professionals—including executives and founders, research directors, and senior analysts from around the world—to consider what “job” market research will perform and the key benefits it will provide for companies in the coming year.

Some of their responses take a broad outlook, while others focus on the value of market research within specific industries such as energy, pharmaceuticals, or health care. Each viewpoint helps shed light on what the future may hold for the market research industry and the businesses that depend on it.


Understand current market dynamics and the long-term outlook.
David Sprinkle, Publisher, Packaged Facts

“As has been the case since the COVID-19 pandemic struck, market research in 2021 will depend not only on expert historical understanding of individual markets, including their distinctive patterns during and after previous economic recessions, but also on steady tracking of market performance throughout the year. The interconnected factors at play—COVID-19 contagion and fatality rates; the corresponding economic slowdown and job loss; the roll-out and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines and drugs; federal and state/local fiscal and stimulus responses, including any lock-down policies; and consumer resilience and psychographics in the face of the experience or threat of economic insecurity—mean in aggregate that market sales trajectories may continue to look more like a pinball’s track than a single-direction arrow or clear-cut curve. Quality and objective market research will enable industry players and market analysts to keep their eye on the larger and longer-term picture, as it unfolds.”   


Get ever closer to the consumer and identify growth opportunities.
Sarah Boumphrey, Global Research Director, Euromonitor International

“Companies will have to get ever closer to the consumer in 2021. Agility, innovation, and bold choices will be needed in order to identify growth opportunities. In this environment, market research and the actionable insights it provides, are even more crucial than ever.”


Make fact-based decisions for a better future.
Joe Newsum, Founder, Kentley Insights

“2021 is all about economic volatility with the virus, shutdowns, vaccines, stimulus, policies, consumer and business demand, bankruptcies, globalization, and more. This volatility will hit every industry in its unique way, and leaders will depend on market research to discern reality from fiction to help drive fact-based decisions for a better future.”


Research customer behavior and pivot to new market niches.
John LaRosa, President, Marketdata LLC

"Too many times, during recessions, companies cut their marketing and market research budgets. This is adding fuel to the fire. During periods of slow sales, it's more important than ever to research why you are losing customers and which ones. It's also necessary to pivot to find new market niches and potential new products and services. If you don't do any research, you'll never know what those new niches might be."


Gain vital insights into a radically changed world.
Jack W. Plunkett, CEO, Plunkett Research, Ltd.

"Executives today are extremely aware that the world changed abruptly with the onset of the Coronavirus. For example, Plunkett Research estimates that literally 10 years’ worth of growth in digital adoption and behavior were compressed into a few months’ time during 2020, as everything from telemedicine—to online grocery ordering—to streaming entertainment soared.

The question on executives’ minds now should be: how much of this behavior will be permanent in the post-COVID era? What will be the attitudes, needs, and plans of businesses and consumers going forward? Will spending resume at former levels, or will today’s high savings rates and financial conservatism endure? If businesses and consumers spend more freely in the near future, what will they be willing to spend on/invest in? How will business markets in 2021 differ geographically and regionally? These are the critical insights that managers need in order to plan their strategies.

The only effective way for enterprises to gain these vital insights is to utilize accurate, up-to-the-minute research. Market researchers have to work harder than ever, and I mean that literally, to conduct interviews, analyze data, draw conclusions, and make forecasts, because things have changed so much and so radically. Our pipeline of research clients has grown significantly in recent months due to these needs. In particular, we’re doing deep research in such areas as online banking and payments, technology adoption, health care markets, and food markets. The next couple of years will be both exciting and challenging for enterprises and market professionals alike."


Scan the horizon for potential threats.
Edwin Bailey, Director of Marketing & Research, Content Catalyst

“In 2021 corporate management teams will be on full alert for events that cause business disruption. This means that competitor intelligence and strategy teams will be taken more seriously and better funded to research potential threats. Companies will be inclined to buy or commission research that will help them understand how a market will shape-up in the event of another pandemic, war, or other ‘unforeseen’ global event. Companies, such as airlines, whose business has been badly affected by the coronavirus pandemic, may seek to diversify into ‘pandemic immune’ sectors and will therefore need support to research and understand market segments unfamiliar to them.”


Identify winners and losers in challenging, fluid conditions.
Simeon Pinder, Senior Analyst, GMR Data Ltd

"How we research has shifted fundamentally due to the pandemic. Three questions we have to address—How was a sector operating pre-COVID? How about during? And what is the outlook for post-COVID?

If we take retail as an example—depending on your physical / online mix, it has been feast or famine. The banking sector has had to deal with loan breaks, whilst scaling their digital to encourage customers towards online. The pharmaceutical sector has faced unprecedented demands, not just in headline vaccines trials, but in areas such as PPE, medical devices, and Rx & OTC arenas.

Our research shows us that no one sector has benefitted universally, and within horizontals there are winners and losers. What we see is that in challenging, fluid, conditions independent market research is always welcomed. We also see light at the end of the tunnel, and we expect a busy 2021!"


Evaluate markets where cutting-edge research and development is performed rapidly on a massive scale.
Deirdre Kelly, PhD, Managing Director, Kelly Scientific 

“Market research will be imperative in 2021 given the current flux in all markets due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Uncertainties associated with drug availability, key ingredients, global logistics, clinical trials, and new drug launches will rock the pharma industry and demand concrete data from market analysts. We at Kelly Scientific have seen certain markets such as immunotherapies withstand the pandemic pressure of 2020, maintaining robust sales but observing stilted growth. Furthermore, COVID-19 is having a major impact on the anti-infectives, vaccine, and viral therapeutic markets and so thorough evaluation of these areas will be required for business strategies and key industry decisions. Comprehensive market analysis will be critical in 2021 in a global environment where cutting-edge research and development is being performed rapidly and on a massive scale. Industry leaders will be required to have all of this knowledge at their fingertips.”


Light a path through uncertainty and secure your position after the storm.
Dan Strempel, Senior Analyst, Simba Information

“The scholarly and professional publishing industry was facing disruption before COVID-19 broke out. But academics, even when pushing for revolutionary changes, are cautious and tend to take incremental steps forward after much research and debate. COVID-19 has created urgency and most feel it has accelerated the movement towards open access, open research—and digital solutions as a means of achieving those goals. In this environment, market research will function as a beacon for those industry competitors who are trying to navigate the uncertainty and secure their place in the market that will exist after the storm.”


Navigate dramatic changes in the energy sector.
Sara Peerun, Commercial Director, Visiongain

''The energy industry is facing prominent challenges, and the COVID-19 pandemic has altered the standards of the market, witnessing for the first time in history negative oil prices. Market research and analysis were always essential for businesses navigating in the competitive energy market economic scenery, and they are anticipated to be the key in our future attempts to understand the nature and the pace of the oil and gas market recovery in 2021 as well as the impact of the pandemic to the global energy transition efforts.''


Understand how disruption has impacted your portfolio and what remedies might help in times of uncertainty.
Dr. Vishal Agrawal, CEO, DelveInsight Business Research

“The global healthcare market has been busy finding a way to overcome the impact of COVID on business without paralyzing itself. Many patients living with comorbid conditions are at the risk of getting infected by coronavirus and pose a real challenge for the prompt delivery of healthcare services, e.g. dialysis. On top of that, patients are avoiding visiting physicians, creating an opportunity for telemedicine and digital platforms to provide services safely at their home. 

The coming year will witness a dramatic shift in the healthcare market. Digital healthcare and telemedicine offer tremendous opportunities, and it is expected to create an exponential impact as regulators around the globe are looking for viable alternatives. 

The role of competitive monitoring will increase, as companies will require insights post the pandemic to gain footing in the market. Market research will go a long way to benefit companies in understanding how the disruption has impacted their portfolio and what remedies might help in the time of economic uncertainty. To cater to the unforeseen circumstances in the healthcare industry, market research activities that take lessons from historical events and move from a reactive approach towards a proactive approach will help in effective decision-making for strategy building. 

Organizations need to involve themselves in understanding consumers' perceptions, analyze granular events to derive accurate forecasts, and work to understand both short-term and long-term implications for business growth. Evidence-based decision making has become the need of the hour, and market research around these points will drive businesses forward.”


Explore promising international growth opportunities while minimizing risk.
Marcello Antonioni, Managing Partner, StudiaBo srl, in charge of ExportPlanning

“Strategic planning has always represented a key driver of growth for companies. Now more than ever, in the extraordinary circumstances we are living due to the current pandemic, taking corporate decisions based on reliable data is and will be essential to bring about recovery and success for any business.

The philosophy behind ExportPlanning has always been the importance of strategy and market research in the process of internationalization. We think that in 2021 this data-driven approach will necessarily spread, in the face of an expanded risk scenario as well as increased competition in international markets.

Carefully chosen foreign markets can represent a powerful tool for growth, all the more so in a context of a stagnant domestic market. Nonetheless, accessing a market without evaluating one’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as risks and opportunities of the project, can constitute a considerable risk. That’s when market research comes into play. Trusted data from open and official sources can help identify the most promising markets for one’s products, through macroeconomic and trade data, combined with modern algorithms and professional expertise in terms of data analysis and internationalization best practices. Market research can therefore constitute a crucial support to minimize the risk while exploring new opportunities, even in these challenging times.”


Find product-market fit in an ever-evolving digital world.
Faisal Ahmad, CEO, BIS Research

"The need for understanding and forecasting the market (especially new and emerging markets) is now extended to almost all technology and technology products. Gathering credible intelligence (market research) is no more a luxury but a necessity to find product-market fit in the ever-evolving digital world."


Use actionable insights for business planning, forecasts, and presentations.
Gerry Christensen, Founder and CEO, Mind Commerce

“While the market research industry itself has transformed significantly over the last decade, the need for insights, data, and actionable information remain a crucial aspect of business strategy and planning for all companies. Despite the recent market disruptions precipitated by COVID-19, the role and importance of market research in 2021 and beyond will continue to grow.

However, it is important to recognize that the manner in which information is delivered, consumed, and put into action is rapidly evolving. Buyer expectations for premium market research drive the need for content-dense delivery with actionable information. The form in which information is consumed is transforming from static reports to more dynamic information, often delivered as part of a subscription service offering.

In addition, market research users increasingly demand flexible platforms that enable customers to use market research content (narrative, data, and images) for many purposes including various internal business documents such as business plans, forecasts, and presentations. Accordingly, successful market research companies will be those that fulfill these evolving customer expectations through scalable and user-friendly market research as-a-service capabilities."

Want more information? Check out our latest article on predicted market research trends for 2022. You can also download our free white paper to learn how third-party market research can help you gain a competitive edge.

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Topics: Market Research Strategy Industry Insights