Research must be more accountable, says P&G's Kim Dedeker
US-- Two years ago Kim Dedeker, head of consumer and market knowledge at consumer goods giant P&G, caused a stir with comments about quality – or lack thereof – in online research. She's now helping the Advertising Research Foundation seek solutions to the problem as chair of its online research quality council (ORQC).
In an interview today, Dedeker told Research that the industry needs to do more to address “systemic” quality issues, and that researchers need to be more accountable for their methods – and their results.
Do you still have the same concerns about online quality that you voiced back in 2006?
I do still have the same concerns, and I've seen lots of data that indicate that we as an industry should be concerned – specifically in the quality of our respondent samples and the quality of our research results. I think things are better for the simple reason that we now have a high level of engagement among the clients, suppliers and industry associations. But we still have a lot of work in front of us to bring about the systemic changes that are required for the sustainability of survey research as a practice.
What do you make of the initiatives to address these issues?
I applaud the efforts of the ORQC and I'm very impressed by the depth and quality of thought that has gone into the industry RFP process that it is leading. As an industry we will be more effective if we are consistent, and decide which approach will be most robust and beneficial to us. So the RFP process is the ideal way to address it, I think. That's the way we'll apply the rigour and discipline that's required.
What do you make of the fraud detection tools being touted by companies like Peanut Labs, MarketTools, Sigma Validation, etc?
I have had the opportunity to review the offerings from several companies, and I am impressed by the overall quality of the proposals that are being submitted. I'm going to be pushing for a ‘phase two' of this work with the focus on the quality of research results. I believe that we need to dial-up our sense of accountability that the results we produce are predictive and replicable.
Doesn't that raise an issue with where an agencyside researcher's job ends and where a client's job begins?
We as an industry have a need to redefine our accountabilities and deliverables. We're in a world where it's far beyond data delivery. I think both sides have the opportunity to dial-up their contribution and add value. We're an industry that's been very focused on data being the key deliverable, so we are not very clear about what the product is that we deliver, beyond data.
Do you worry that online will turn out to be neither as quick nor as cheap as everyone thought if more focus has to go on quality?
As I view online research, it wasn't so much about being cheaper and quicker. That was an outcome, but it was about the fact that it was a more practical way to engage with consumers and bring data to light than the previous generation of mediums. It's a natural progression from door-to-door to telephone to online, and quality issues apply to all of those. The spotlight's on online right now but we're naive if we think we didn't have quality problems in other types of research. I think that's a critical point – this is a systemic issue in the industry. Online has just created the controversy because of some of the analyses that various parties have done.
So how would you characterise the situation regarding quality in research?
The general situation is positive, but I am concerned that there hasn't been more engagement in what we need to be accountable for, and what our responsibility is. That's an ongoing improvement opportunity more than a crisis – I don't think we're in dire straits.
How does the issue of quality affect clients? What are the consequences if research is not good enough?
The consequences of not improving quality are that we lose credibility about what our primary deliverable is, and that's providing support and influencing strategy for our companies. So I think we need to take a more critical look at the investment we make in research. Making sure that we're not only giving appropriate guidance but that we represent a good return on the investment. It's accountability, credibility and value for money.
How do you see the quality issue evolving? Are things getting better, or does the industry need to do more?
I believe that we will continue to step-up our progress and improve research quality. But we need to do more and sustain a mindset of continual improvement. The customers that we serve are complex individuals, and our industry will have to evolve at a more rapid pace than we have in the past in order to offer our customers the value-add propositions that they deserve and have come to expect of us.
Interview by Robert Bain