Trust in how others use our personal data will almost certainly become an even bigger issue as the use of data held about us becomes more prevalent. To the extent that people believe market researchers use personally identifiable information (PII) in their endeavours, the increasing importance of trust will apply to our industry. On the face of it, then, it would make sense for industry associations like RANZ to invest in educating the public about what data we collect, how we use it and how we keep it safe. In my experience, market researchers take incredible levels of care to treat respondent data securely and with respect (that we all abide by various Codes of Practice is good evidence for this). If that is indeed the case, the task would primarily be a communication challenge.

If we accept that proposition, the next question is obvious… How do we communicate our message and how do we fund that communication?

Or is it? Perhaps there is another question we should ponder first…

How much longer will we rely on the public’s cooperation to complete our surveys? This is a serious question discussed at the 2024 RANZ/APRC Conference – The Future of Insights: Where are all the Humans? A case was made, albeit with some opposition, that synthetic data will obviate the need to connect with real humans for researchers to do what we do. If accuracy, cost and speed advantages of synthetic data materialise over the next few years, how much should we invest over those years in building trust among people we may not need to bother any more?

I can imagine a future beyond even synthetic data when multi-modal AI models have evolved to the point where we will engage with them exactly as we would any other intelligent agent – another human, for example.

We currently rely on data (the rows and columns kind) to build knowledge and understanding of the world around us. In this future, our AI colleague is able to help us identify product, brand and marketing opportunities and to exploit those opportunities without our kind of data being part of the process. The AI of this future has gained knowledge and understanding from the world (real and digital) directly. In other words, our AI friend is aware of everything, everywhere, all at once.

At this point, our industry will have been fully disrupted.

Of course, it is unknown whether this happens at all, let alone in a time frame meaningful to those of us contemplating the possibility. However, when resources are scarce and the potential efficacy of any communication campaign is unknown, even the possibility of such a future transpiring within years rather than decades should give us pause.