FEATURE21 April 2011

Crisis of confidence?

Features News

Researchers are feeling unloved and unrespected. They feel that clients don’t appreciate the value of their work, that they put speed of delivery ahead of quality and cannot tell the difference between top-drawer and mediocre market research. At least that’s what a recent survey said. We gathered some reaction to the results.

Those sentiments, uncovered by the latest Greenbook Research Industry Trends Study, suggest a crisis of confidence among research suppliers. But are they really as pessimistic as the survey would have us believe? Research put some feelers out. Here’s what they told us.

Tim Britton, UK chief executive, YouGov

Of course speed is often of the essence, but this doesn’t mean that quality is less important. There is a trade-off to be made and we should make choices, rather than pretend it is possible to have it all. It can be a perfectly reasonable decision to take something tomorrow, that is useful albeit far from perfect, rather than wait for a week by which time the decision has been made and the opportunity for research input missed. The problem arises when perfect quality is expected within incredibly tight deadlines. This may well be impossible and we should say so.

Andrew Czarnowski, CEO of TNS UK

I don’t think it is as simple as clients prioritising speed of deliverables over quality; it is also a consequence of restrained budgets and an industry adapting to a world where information is omnipresent. As researchers, it is important that we present a united front and demonstrate to clients that quality isn’t a mere hygienic, but a crucial ingredient for getting accurate representations of the marketplace, and consequently for making better business decisions. In return, we need to keep evolving our offer and continue to adapt to a world where brand engagement can be won or lost in an instant – without compromising on quality.

David Day, CEO, Lightspeed Research

Speed of turnaround in quotations and fieldwork is always an issue for clients but I certainly don’t believe that the quality of work is less important than it ever was. Clients expect high quality as a given and until recently assumed that all providers are the equal in this respect. With the growth in online data collection there is now a wide spectrum of quality within the industry in terms of how respondents are sourced and validated, how samples are constructed and how data quality is assured. Changing any one of these things can have a significant impact on client data. Correspondingly, our experience in Lightspeed Research is that there is an increasing focus on online research methods and data quality. Highly quality research is not (and never was) a commodity and it is in the interests of both the buying and selling sides of research to understand this.

Richard Evensen, senior analyst, Forrester Research

These view do not align with my experience. Over the past five years I’ve actually seen much more scrutiny into sourcing, methodology and results by my clients, potentially due to the need for higher-value insights and business implications and greater CX-level access (and questioning). My clients take quality very seriously and many consider their jobs at risk if they were to deliver questionable research. Recently I’ve actually seen a greater willingness to pay a premium to get higher quality, actionable research. Speed is definitely important, but not at the sacrifice of research and insights quality.

Jon Priest, CEO, SPA Future Thinking

I’d be absolutely gobsmacked if clients couldn’t tell the difference between high-quality and mediocre research. In our careers no doubt we’ve all been responsible for producing stuff our boss wasn’t happy with and our clients spotted a mile off, and I think they always have done. If you’re below the standard of delivering insight, particularly actionable insight with a supporting foundation of research findings, you wont get used again. I’m surprised by this: it’s the sort of commentary that you often hear fromconsultants and designers, but most market researcher buyers, because budgets have been squeezed over the past two to three years, have demanded more value and have therefore become more attentive to what is being delivered.

Andy Moore, global MD, Nunwood

Research buyers are not a homogenous universe – their ability to discriminate between high-quality and mediocre research is a function of their background and training. Obviously, those with classical research training are more likely to be an effective research buyer. However, not all clients have such training. I believe the research industry must take some of the blame for not explaining good research and why it is of relevance to their business. Research agencies must manage the eternal triangle of cost, quality and timeliness in a way that’s optimised for the client. Without timely delivery, much research is of limited value and doesn’t lead to action. Agencies need to be more involved in the activation of research findings – and more focused on ROI – if they are to influence and change their roles.


10 years ago

With a masters degree in qualitative research and an extensive background in design consultancy I understand the situation for both researcher and client. Personally, I always explain the levels of insight available to clients who can then decide the depth of analysis they desire – it’s important to be clear about the deliverables. In reality, until you start analysing a set of data, especially qualitative material, you can't really tell the precise time it will be completed as you always need time for reflection upon identifying the actionable findings. Formally trained qualies will be aware that analysis is an ongoing activity, occuring throughout the data collection of interview material and well beyond the delivery of any report and findngs. Fortunately, being independent, I have the luxury of negotiating timelines that allow for best quality and know one thing for sure; commercial research is very different to academic research and I love bringing the two worlds together. www.subvista.com

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10 years ago

I'm surprised at the two introductory paragraphs in this piece. The word choice strikes me as extremely condescending, and minimizes some very important issues facing the research industry (e.g., critical lack of funding; emphasis on shallow, quickly delivered results over more insightful findings). I would have expected to see a more serious treatment of this subject matter.

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