Setting research free
Do-it-yourself tools are opening up market research to the masses. But Richard Thornton (pictured) and Bo Mattsson of Cint argue that the DIY trend is about much more than just survey tools, and could have a profound impact on the role that research plays in business.
Research’s July cover story addressed ‘do it yourself’ research, a topic that has raised its head at conferences this year as the industry tries to understand what implications these tools have for the more traditional methods of conducting research.
But DIY research is not the new kid on the block that some may be led to believe. What is new is that there finally seems to be a real debate starting about its validity and whether there is a place for the tools that enable it. The Research article has helped bring this topic to a wider audience, but it really only looks at DIY 1.0. We argue that we have already moved to DIY 2.0 (Cint and a number of other technology-led firms servicing the online research industry certainly have).
What does DIY 2.0 mean? First it should be free, if the objective is to encourage conversion and achieve critical mass in the use of such tools. Free survey and reporting tools for field and tab are a starting point, with SurveyMonkey being one of the most popular. But SurveyMonkey is only free for some uses - it’s still a subscription model at heart. There are also many other free web-based tools out there. You only need to type ‘free survey templates’ into Google to see 1.5 million results. This in itself poses a number of questions, not least how to go about choosing the right ones.
Secondly, it means an automated, self-service approach. We are seeing significant developments in self-service survey packages which seem to be positioned to attract SMEs, consumers and corporate clients directly as much as MR agencies. Typically these are in the shape of short, snappy PR or omnibus-type surveys or quick polls. There are also client portals where clients can log in and access proposal and project information as well as track fieldwork, and automated sampling and tracking tools to increase efficiency in both cost and production of deploying and delivering samples.
“What firms have been buying through MR agencies for all these years is, to a large extent, access to the consumer. Access is the last big hindrance to doing real market research on your own”
Thirdly, DIY means making sample accessible to anyone. One of the most important things to understand about DIY research is that what firms have been buying through MR agencies for all these years is, to a large extent, access to the consumer. Access is the last big hindrance to doing real market research on your own, and DIY has the potential to bring it to the masses: MR agencies, SMEs, consumersand large clients. But not just any sample - the quality has to be evident in the sample for all research and there is no reason why DIY tools cannot work with the same principles. Researchers rightly focus on the quality of the data source, and will scrutinise this more closely with DIY approaches, so providing access to robust, reliable and engaged samples are important if this approach is to take off. This is the aim of the Cint Panel Exchange, launched in 2004, a marketplace for online panels accessible to all for direct self-service online sampling.
MR for the masses
Access is now becoming a commodity, reachable by anyone, and this poses a challenge for MR firms as they focus on their core competency, insights. Like many others in our space, our core clients are MR agencies and we work with them very successfully, but we also see a valuable commercial opportunity in opening new channels using technology. Examples include the implementation of widget applications on external websites which are being used to find and connect people to surveys.
The real DIY revolution in research will put consumers at our fingertips, and this may not be so far away – we can look to the financial markets as a barometer for what may come in the online research world. In many markets where online DIY trading took off in the 1990s, the number of consumers trading stock grew by a factor of 20 to 30 in ten years. The main reason behind this change was the internet’s ability to make the stock markets accessible to anyone. By bringing market research to the individual student fixing his thesis, or to an SME checking consumer attitudes in a neighbouring country for a budget of £1000, we may be seeing the same change in research.
What it all means
So what are the dangers and how do we embrace DIY while protecting research as a science? The skill of choosing the appropriate methodology for your research is still, and will remain, absolutely critical. DIY research is about empowering everyone to conduct more basic, quick-turnaround surveys rather than complex, highly tuned research with tightly designed sample frames and stringent quality measures. There is also a valid argument that some people using DIY tools won’t have sufficient statistical expertise to make the right calls about results derived from the research, or to carry out studies with the appropriate design and sampling.
It depends, of course, who you are researching, what you want to achieve and how much your budget is. The current tough economic climate may work in favour of DIY. The DIY approach can provide users with a fast, accurate and inexpensive service at a time when marketing budgets are coming under intense scrutiny and where access to information is more critical than ever. And if researchers know their client’s industry, they can play the role of marketing strategists and offer value through strategic recommendations based on the results delivered.
Richard Thornton is Cint’s UK managing director, and Bo Mattsson is CEO.