DIY Research – if your radiator is leaking do you call a plumber?

DIY Research – if your radiator is leaking do you call a plumber?

Agency side market researchers are not renowned for having dramatic outbursts, but there are two words that are guaranteed to raise their hackles: DIY Research.

I can remember when DIY research outfit Survey Monkey started up, it was greeted with a mixture of derision and disdain among research professionals – I should know, I was one of them. The thought of clients and other non-research professionals conducting their own research was heresy among those whose living was based on providing their considerable research expertise, for (some would say) a considerable fee.

This was a time when research agencies were just not ready to countenance DIY as a serious proposition. When (a much younger!) Michalis Michael advocated entering the DIY space at the 2005 annual Synovate conference in Beijing, it’s fair to say his views were not exactly given a warm reception from the then CEO and other members of the executive committee.

Survey Monkey has enabled clients to cut out the middle-man and cut costs. It’s also given every market research agency executive the opportunity to quip to their clients – if you want to pay peanuts, get Survey Monkey.

And they did – in their droves. Wind the clock forward 10 years or so, and Survey Monkey is now valued as a billion dollar company.

It has become more successful than most could possibly imagine, let alone predict. It had the perfect business model for the social media age, just like its bigger brothers Google, Facebook and YouTube it offered a free platform with commercial add-ons, and the rest, as they say, is history.

DIY research is here to stay, but is it a “good thing” for the research industry? If DIY continues to grow, what does the future hold for research experts who wish to continue to make a living?

As some researchers point out, (here’s an eloquent example from Annie Pettit’s Lovestats blog) their beef is not necessarily with DIY research, but poor quality research in general.

Just as untrained and unqualified plumbers shouldn’t go around trying to fix burst pipes – Joe Bloggs shouldn’t start running surveys, to concoct unsubstantiated findings, just because he can. For research to have meaning, it needs to have rigour. Unfortunately poor research is not just confined to the untrained. Some experienced professionals still manage to produce surveys long and dull enough to make your bones ache. So it’s not surprising that clients, many with research expertise in-house, are seeking to “do their own”.

And it’s not just the “commodity” side of the business which is changing. The DIY trend looks set to expand within qualitative as well. Online communities, which are often run by client brand managers or online community managers, are evolving into ideal platforms to conduct qualitative research, all the while developing better relationships with customers.

Also communities are getting bigger and qualitative research is being conducted in larger numbers, which is blurring the definitions of qualitative and quantitative research. And to many DIYers, the difference is merely one of semantics. It doesn’t really matter if a study is large scale qual or small scale quant – what matters is producing useful findings to enhance business decisions, at the lowest cost.

And in today’s harsh economic climate, there are not many clients whose research budgets will have increased. Research departments are increasingly tasked to generate more insight for less cost. This may well herald the reversal of the recent trend in outsourcing, and instead see client side departments developing more expertise in-house and carrying out more of their own research.

The surge in DIY has forced research agencies to raise their game, which can only be of benefit to clients and the industry in general. If the commoditisation of panels, for example, is leading to respondent burnout the MR industry needs to respond. And in many cases it’s doing so already.

It is not sufficient to just champion high quality standards, the industry needs to demonstrate, with the evidence drawn from funded case studies if necessary, why quality matters and the pitfalls of poor quality research.

It needs to add value to the research process by constantly finding more creative ways to better engage with its respondents and participants. For example, private online communities and developments in online questionnaires are currently making inroads in improving the survey experience.

Also agencies need to sell their services more innovatively. This might entail offering free survey platforms or communities and charging for add-ons. They may wish to offer online field and tab, and a series of menu options including consultancy, specifically for clients doing DIY.

In answer to the title of this blog, if your radiator is leaking and you know how to fix it, you wouldn’t want to pay extra for the services of a plumber. If it’s a more serious burst pipe, then you might do a quick trade-off between trying to fix it yourself or bringing in the professionals.

And this is exactly how many clients are evaluating their research requirements, and it boils down to simple maths – for any given study, just how much value will high quality innovative research bring to the table vs “fast and dirty”? And how much more is it worth paying for?

Based on their experience of previous projects, the clients are best placed to decide which approach is most appropriate for each study and it’s up to the research agency to convince them otherwise, when on occasion, we feel they have made the wrong decision.

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