DIY market research

Democratising or demonising research, asks Richard Thornton managing director at Cint UK.

Richard Thornton
Richard Thornton

Those who think that to talk to consumers you still need to get in touch with a research agency or a panel will be pleasantly surprised to know that yet again the internet has changed the business model. DIY Research – the term given to research done online, via sites like Survey Monkey or Zoomerang – allows users to create a questionnaire, distribute it direct to their email list and receive an aggregation of the results ’in real time’. These systems are either free or very low cost and can be used by anyone who signs up, so long as, up until now, they had, their own sample.

The growth in popularity of these sites has created a lot of debate in the marketing industry. On one side many see the opportunity for people to do their own research as democratising and liberating. Others think it will undermine the value of research, produce poor quality data and result in bad business decisions.

At Cint we felt that the voice of the marketer or client end user was missing from these conversations. So, we did 15 indepth interviews with end clients at small, medium and large companies, and professional researchers in the UK, US and Germany to find out what they feel about DIY tools and how and why they use them.
We found that the pro/anti feeling towards DIY doesn’t divide neatly between the client users and market research agencies respectively. Agency researchers do not automatically see DIY as a ’threat’ to their businesses or the professional stature of the market research industry. “The choice of DIY for smaller companies is good. It is better than moving forward with no information at all”, commented one, “it’s an obvious choice,” said another.

Clients feel liberated by being able to access the views of their clients and customers so directly and easily. Comments ranged from “the sky’s the limit” from a US PR Agency, to “we now do about 50% of our research ourselves – a change over the last two years” from a client researcher in the US. “We use Survey Monkey for all the easy things when we have our own sample and if it’s quick and dirty and we need to build a survey in a day and get results back in a week” commented one advertising agency client in the UK.

These end users aren’t so naïve as to think that DIY research could or should provide them with all of the market information they might need or that they should do complex research themselves. They worried about asking the right questions, getting the right sample, and understanding the results and saw a clear role for professional researchers to help with these issues.

Clients also had the same concerns about panel quality as professional researchers. Having an accurate email list or database has been a problem for users in the past. As one SME client in the US said: “in my experience having a smart pool of people answering your questions is key”.

We see the growth of DIY as a demonstration of the split between simple studies, used to gain ’information’ that can be managed by clients and more sophisticated, value-added insight generating research that agencies and insight departments provide. Our research shows there is a huge potential for research agencies to embrace DIY as another way of gathering data, and integrate it with their services to clients. Rather than fight what is already here the onus is on agencies to enable clients to design and manage projects using whatever appropriate methodology at their disposal.


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