You know the old adage: “Fast, cheap, or good; you can have any two.”
I’m beginning to believe that a significant portion of marketers have opted to sacrifice “good” for “fast” and “cheap” when it comes to research. For years, particularly since online data collection started to take off, there has been an increasing emphasis on speed and considerable downward price pressure in the research industry.
So there’s no misunderstanding of my point, let me say that I’m all for leveraging technology to improve speed, capability, and cost-effectiveness. What I don’t like is the apparent disregard for the value of subject-matter expertise in research.
I know that there are a lot of smart marketers out there. So, there must be a reason why expertise is discounted in favor of speed and cost. I believe that, to a large degree, expertise has been discounted because the research buyers haven’t felt they were getting any. This opinion seems to be validated by a story in the June 15 2007 issue of Marketing News, that essentially says research buyers want “good.”
The research industry is suffering from two big problems. First, as a group, we’ve been lousy marketers. Rule #1 in marketing is to differentiate yourself. There seems to have been many research firms who haven’t done this, so they compete on doing faster and cheaper instead. If buyers get the “we’ll do it faster and cheaper than the other guy” for long enough, that’s what they”re going to be looking for.
The second problem is one of expertise. There are many very bright people working in research, to be sure. But there are also many inexperienced junior people who aren’t getting the training and development they need. Since its the junior staff that tend to be the ones working the projects on a day-to-day basis, this creates fertile ground for mistakes of all kinds. It also means that there won’t be much interpretation in a report, because the people doing most of the writing lack the experience to recognize subtle, but important, issues.
These two issues, in conjunction with easy availability of online survey platforms and advanced analytic software, have also led to a much bigger proportion of research buyers opting to do it themselves. So, now full-service research providers are competing against estimates to do the work in-house, where the only recognized costs are the panel rental and software cost.
To paraphrase a popular ad campaign…
“Finding online sample…cheap
Collecting data online…fast
Asking the right questions…priceless”
In his blog, Merrill Dubrow, points out an all too typical example of survey research poorly executed. My opinion is that this was most likely an in-house DIY survey done by people who lack experience in research. Why would they opt not to hire a researcher to conduct the survey? Because their experience or perception (or both) told them that they wouldn’t get any more expertise than they already had for their money.
A case where “priceless” took on its literal meaning of $0 because the research buyer didn’t believe that an outside expert would benefit the project. Researchers have no one to blame but themselves for this perception.
What to do? Raise our game.
First, get better at marketing ourselves and communicating to our market about the value delivered by experienced, skilled professional researchers. Second, transfer knowledge to our junior staff. The more experienced researchers have a treasure trove of knowledge and experience that needs to be passed on – how else do we expect them to develop and replace us?