Amy Shields (AS): Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. We’re very excited that you will be the keynote speaker on opening day of MRA’s 2013 Insights & Strategies Conference (ISC) taking place in Orlando on June 10-12. To start, please share some background regarding your education, experience and career.

Jim McQuivey (JM): I pursued an MBA in the 90s because I wanted to understand consumer marketing and psychology. It turned out that people in business school don’t typically care about understanding the consumer, so I fished around for a doctoral program that placed a strong emphasis on the research methods that would teach me more about the consumer. That program was the Mass Communications Research Ph.D. at Syracuse University, which was a fit for me because it was at the cutting edge of media technology research at the time. Cross-training in media studies, quantitative survey research, anthropology, sociology, and neuroscience, I found the understanding of the consumer that I had been looking for all along. I also discovered that the fundamentals of human psychology were about to collide with the irresistible force of technology change, which would produce a uniquely powerful outcome. I have worked to understand and, where possible, predict that outcome ever since. I am currently a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research.

AS: You will be addressing the digitally disrupted consumer during your presentation, so perhaps it would be helpful to talk a bit about digital disruption. What exactly is it and what does it mean for market researchers?

JM: Digital disruption is the result of massive consumer adoption of the tools and services that open them to experience new offerings and benefits more quickly than before. This then requires businesspeople to adapt to this disrupted consumer landscape as they try to identify, prepare for, and deliver enhanced consumer experiences and benefits. The consumer is disrupted already - businesses are in the process of disrupting currently. Marketing researchers sit at a particularly important, yet vulnerable, intersection. As the people in the business responsible for understanding how the company and its messages affect the end customer, their job has never been more important. However, researchers have not typically been able to adapt to the rapid pace at which the business has to operate. Often, they are not embedded in the strategic side of the business and as such, may not have either the methods or the influence to make the company smart about what digital is doing to the customer. It’s a high risk situation and some people won’t survive it.

AS: What motivated you to author “Digital Disruption: Unleashing the Next Wave of Innovation”?

JM: I saw in my research that everything was about to come to a head. The consumer changes that had been simmering since I first started following America Online in 1991, which took four years to reach two million subscribers, were now being fully expressed in unprecedented consumer uptake of the iPad (which at the two-year mark had reached sales of over 80 million units.) At the same time, I saw company after company treating disruption as a rare event that they could possibly avoid if they were smart about it.

AS: What were you hoping to accomplish?

JM: I knew that (companies believing they could avoid digital disruption) would be a mistake and I realized I had the chance to present overwhelming evidence to them while at the same time pointing out that the same forces that make digital disruption possible also make it easier to do than you think. That’s what the book is about.

AS: I know that more than a decade of work went into the manuscript about digital disruption. Is there a reason you chose to produce a “quick read”, as opposed to providing more data to support the analysis?

JM: There is plenty of data in the book to support the analysis, both qualitatively and quantitatively collected. In fact, this question is one of the problems with the research community: if something is true and overwhelmingly supported by available evidence, how much more information do you need to decide to act on it? How many ways can you point out that the iPad sold 80 times faster than the iPod in a comparable period? If the fact that even Microsoft can sell its Kinect camera to eight million people in two months doesn’t impress upon your mind the fact that something has changed, what will? You are either paying attention to what’s going on and you don’t want me to waste your time with additional charts, or you are resisting what’s happening and nothing I pile on as evidence will change your readiness. There’s a lesson in this for marketing researchers, if they listen close enough.

AS: Can you provide a synopsis of the presentation you’ll be giving at ISC?

JM: I’ll introduce the concept of digital disruption, explaining how it represents a break from consumer behavior of the past and why businesses will have to respond with different tactics than they have. I’ll explain the principles that will make companies successful as digital disruptors. Then we’ll talk about how digital disruption changes the role of research - if we let it.

AS: What should attendees expect?

JM: Expect to be excited by the big changes taking place. I have yet to meet an audience that doesn’t personally root for digital disruption - at least as consumers. But also expect to be a bit uncomfortable as you have to face big questions about the ability of research to keep up with competitors like cloud analytics, platform-based dashboards, and Big Data; all of them providing similar value at higher scale and with faster results.

AS: What areas will you be covering and what nuggets will they be able to take back and apply to their own businesses?

JM: They’ll leave this speech confident that change is coming, aware that their business is about to be irrevocably altered in the face of new data types and evolving consumer behaviors, and committed to playing a more strategic role in their internal or external clients’ businesses.

AS: To wrap things up, please talk about what you think the marketing research landscape will look like in the years ahead.

JM: Marketing research in the future will have to be more tightly connected to the business, providing a real-time assessment of the company’s relationship with customers. This has to be done more quickly than before and has to draw on more resources while costing even less than before. It will involve traditional research techniques as well as staying on top of social media, digital customer interactions, and partner data. Measuring the effectiveness of marketing media will become significantly less important than measuring the success of the product experience.

AS: What types of skills and qualities will the leaders of tomorrow’s marketing research companies need to have?

JM: The marketing research executive that will succeed will be able to integrate multiple sources of data to create a whole picture of the consumer product experience. While methodologically expert, those individuals will also have to employ intuition to complement their objective knowledge. No part of the brain should be left out of the analysis of the consumer of the future.