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Market research can be harder than you think

Posted on by nanda

The proliferation of online survey tools and people having a stab at their own questionnaires might lead one to think that market research is easy.  After all, how hard can it be to ask a few questions?  And it’s true that a quick poll of customers to get a steer on satisfaction levels or a short questionnaire on residents’ opinions can provide interviewers with some useful feedback at little cost, especially when budget is tight.

However, professional research to obtain rich insight into complex business issues is a different matter.  What many don’t realize is that timing, content, discussion flow, sampling (audience) and method all play a huge part in the quality and accuracy of the information that comes back.  If not considered carefully, there’s the risk that the results will provide the completely wrong steer.

Take sampling for example:  Randomly interviewing shoppers on a Monday morning is likely to attract a completely different audience (and feedback) to undertaking those interviews on a Saturday.  And what about timing? A study on employee satisfaction just after a round of redundancies might obtain quite different results to one carried out just after a Christmas bonus.  Considering method is vital too:  An online survey among pensioners may be inappropriate if wanting a representative cross-section of the public, as some don’t use the internet.  Yet it might be ideal for a different audience.

A lot of effort is generally directed towards survey content, but this again can be a minefield for the uninitiated.  Commonly, survey designers will try to cram in too many questions with the thought that: ‘It’s too good an opportunity to miss, so while we’re there …’  This can leave respondents bored and unwilling to complete the study, rather than engaged and enthusiastic about giving feedback.  In addition, rarely is enough thought given to discussion flow, with sensitive questions about salary etc being asked upfront instead of later on, once rapport has been built.

These are just a few of the pitfalls to consider when designing and undertaking research – there are many more, such as response rates, incentives to participate, pre-tasking, the list goes on.  Which is why, if it’s an important business issue, it can be worth the investment to call in the specialists.  Of course we like to ‘defend our art’, but were rightfully proud of our profession and our ability to uncover meaningful insights that can inform a company’s strategy and genuinely drive their business forward.

If budget won’t allow the use of professional researchers, it’s wise to at least spend some time considering more than just the questions to be asked.  Thinking about when, where, who, how and what will be most likely to achieve representative, unbiased feedback can pay dividends down the line.

Nanda Marchant

MD, added insight

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