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News Flash: Researchers Are in Business, Not Just the Esoteric Pursuit of Data


Editor’s Note: Last week’s post by Jason Anderson on 8 Things I Would Do If I Were A Market Research Company really ruffled some feathers and provoked a firestorm of  comments here, on numerous LinkedIn Groups, and on Twitter. In fact, it’s one of the most popular posts we’ve ever had, with over 4,000 views in a week! In the comments I made on the various discussion boards I cited the anecdotes of many other clients echoing the theme of Jason’s post: Market Research must evolve to remain relevant. Rich Raquet, President of TRC Research has a great post that works well as a follow-up; he cites a recent panel discussion at the ESOMAR World Congress where several client-side researchers expressed similar ideas. Rich ties this in nicely with a point I make regularly as well: in a free market economy, successful companies evolve to meet changing market demands. This truism needs to be hammered home to all of us. It’s time to get down to business about the business of market research.

By Rich Raquet

Last time I talked about how we as an industry worry about response rates and respondent engagement either too much or for the wrong reasons. This time, I’d like to expand on that point by picking up on a comment made by Joan M. Lewis of Procter &Gamble.

esomar-logoThe second day of the ESOMAR CONGRESS conference featured a panel of big research buying clients. They talked about the things they wanted and were no getting. Two big areas were boiling data down to as few charts as possible and to help them drive innovation and change. Both are related. In essence, don’t give me a 100 page report or a chart with 100 numbers on it. Boil it all down and tell me what to do!

Jeff Hunter of General Mills talked about one comment by one respondent that changed the way they advertised in Brazil. Lorna Walters of Reckitt Benckiser showed pages and pages of examples of reports that were too time consuming to take in or charts that were too complex to understand. None of them talked about engaging respondents (other than in the sense of getting better information from them) or response rates (other than to say we need to move past it).

Larry Gold (Editor of Inside Research), who was in the audience, asked them about a panel a week earlier at the AMA Research Conference in which top research company CEO’s complained that clients were asking for more but wanted to spend less. He suggested that this was yet another example of that phenomenon.

Joan Lewis of P & G rose and gave my favorite quote from the conference.  She said something like “that sounds more like the thinking of a government agency, not a for profit company.” She went on to say that her firm, like most, is constantly being asked to deliver more or better for less. Why should research be exempt?   In other words, we work in a free market…Stop the presses!!!!

This simple fact is far too often lost in our industry. As I noted last time, we worry about response rate even as our clients don’t care (Ms. Lewis stating it outright).  Perhaps more accurately it isn’t that they don’t care, just that the time and money needed to raise response rates does not provide enough value to make it worth the cost, or the wait.

This doesn’t mean we can ignore “quality”.  Low response rates do have consequences. Chief among them is the potential that the data contain biases that make them flawed. We can’t ignore this…we can, however, seek to understand it and ensure the data have value nonetheless.

So as “for profit” researchers, we need to move faster in the direction of producing things that clients truly value. They’ve told us what those things are and nothing is stopping us from building on their thoughts with our own ideas. Any firm that fails to do that will have a tough road ahead. Those that do, however, will dominate the future of market research (or whatever the industry morphs into).

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3 responses to “News Flash: Researchers Are in Business, Not Just the Esoteric Pursuit of Data

  1. Totally agree. Our role is to deliver insights and recommendations, not data. As researchers, we need to complete the nitty-gritty analysis to get to the insights, but that doesn’t mean our deliverables should focus on showcasing that analysis. Too often researchers get lost in their own methods; to be effective and influential, we need to apply those methods to answering our clients’ key questions and helping them move forward.

  2. I’m a client-side and I don’t mind asking for more research for less money because I’m being asked to get more from less. That’s the way of the world I think so I really liked this article. The fact is, markets develop and hopefully get more efficient which often means lower costs and lower charges. Research is the same. Automate, make-it-cheaper and who knows – we might buy more research studies instead of spending more on a single-study.

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