6 Unexpected Research Trends For '14

One of the best things about working in market research is that we never know which trends will hit us when. Often, they seem obvious: We all saw the smartphone onslaught coming, for example. But consumers are often equally affected by things blown in on a breeze from someplace unexpected, like the Vatican, a Beijing suburb or high school football.

Here they are -- the six ideas marketers (and researchers) will hear more about this year.

1. Now that mobile has grown up, so will desktops
Not only is the PC not dead yet, researchers have never even come close to using it as well as we could. As we’ve become more adept at what mobile can do for research, look for researchers to make better use of what’s long been in those humble desktops -- sound, video, cameras, and the ability to analyze data in real-time. Gamification, the buzzword used so often in mobile, will be the crowbar of that finally pries open the PC.



2. Social media gets right sized
As much as we’ve seen social media explode, there’s only 24 hours in a day. Consumers will begin to limit the time they spend there, sparking a shakeout between the likes of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest. 

Consumers are also reconsidering their boundaries. I doubt this fascination for documenting what we think, see and eat all day, every day, is infinite. 

People will always operate on the ROI principle: If they are getting something valuable, they’ll keep up the effort. At some point, social media users will realize that the more of a life they have, the less time they have to spend tweeting about it.

I suspect that the use of social media by specialty researchers as a source of market information will experience a parallel shake-out.

3. The environment heats up
As Americans sort through fast-changing information about the planet, it is hitting home in confusing (and conflicting) ways. For one, the oil shortage is over, at least for now. So the pressure of rising gas prices is subsiding, after years of wreaking havoc on household budgets. At the same time, extreme weather patterns are creating monster storms. 

We may be fine with our lifestyles now, but the potential over the long term -- perhaps even medium term -- is not easily dismissed. Superstorms are scary and costly. The world is giving us very audible messages that yes, Mother Nature, is fighting back. Watch for climate concerns to play an increasing role in the consumer mindset.

4. The one-party state is over
With the Winter Olympics in Sochi just around the corner, there’ll be plenty of focus on the changing politics of the world, from the Ukraine to the Middle East and all the way to China. Arab Spring 2.0. will go viral -- there’s just too much freely flowing information and too much tech-enabled empowerment for any one-party state to last. It’s a new world order, dominated by young people’s technologies.

5. We get the picture called “This is your brain on contact sports”
Between the National Football League, the growing publicity about brain injuries among the military, and community movements focused on children’s sports across the country, awareness of the delicacy of the human noggin has never been greater. As high schools debate whether to end or restrict football, for example, look for conversations about neurobiology to migrate into medicine, fitness, and marketing. 

6. Catholicism’s comeback softens the world’s edges
With the election of Pope Francis, Catholicism, the world’s second-biggest religion, seems to be leaving some of its troubled past behind. With its focus on the poor and income inequality, the church seems to be signaling a shift to a softer, more nurturing presence. That sentiment may reverberate not just through Catholics, but also to society at large -- and this shifting ideological environment could lead to consumers seeking to find a softer place within themselves. Francis recently fired a bishop for buying a $20,000 bathtub, for example; the press quickly nicknamed that fellow “The Bishop of Bling.” The influence of this new Pope might lead more of us -- Catholic and non-Catholic alike -- to think more about connecting with others.

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