Why Faster, Cheaper, and Better Market Research Is a Dangerous Illusion

Summary: Faster, cheaper, and better is the ultimate sales pitch by new technologies and tools entering the market research industry. Don't believe it. There are always trade-offs you will have to make between all three factors.

5 minutes to read. By author Michaela Mora on May 23, 2019
Topics: Business Strategy, Market Research, Market Research Cartoons

Why Faster, Cheaper, and Better Market Research Is A Dangerous Illusion

There is no such thing as faster, cheaper, and better market research. It is an illusion, and it is dangerous.

However, it is the reasoning behind bringing all research inside a company with a team of one researcher and no help from outside research vendors.

Faster, cheaper, and better is also the ultimate sales pitch for new technologies and tools entering the market research industry.

Cheaper & Better Insights?

  • Bringing Research Inside

Cost-saving is often the most significant driver behind companies’ decision to bring all market research in-house.

Even in big companies, it’s common to find a team of one corporate researcher. He or she has to carry out all steps of each research project (design, programming, analysis, and reporting) to save money and meet short deadlines. Believe me; I know how it is. I was one of those for a while during my corporate research career.

  • You Need Diverse Perspectives

Although it can be a cost-saving solution, it doesn’t automatically increase the quality of insights. I have been to several conferences where many corporate researchers proudly announce they “do everything” without the help of outside vendors. There is pride in that.

However, that comes with a lot of blind spots, even for the most experienced researchers and those lucky ones who have at least another team member to bounce ideas off.

Moreover, the lack of diverse perspectives from outside researchers exposed to different types of projects will go against better insights. If nothing else, having another pair of eyes to check for errors can prevent significant mistakes.

  • You Need to Avoid Burnout

Corporate research teams are under a lot of pressure to produce insights, fast, and with minimal resources. Long hours, the stress created by short deadlines, and numerous projects lead to burnout over time. In a burnout scenario, better insights are an oxymoron.

  • You Need Experience

Also, to save money, many companies have pushed senior and experienced researchers out, leaving the task of producing insights to more inexperienced counterparts, who don’t know what they don’t know. Cheaper? Yes. Better? No.

Faster & Better Insights?

Speed is a crucial promise of many new technologies and a pain point for corporate researchers and research suppliers.

Technology may speed up specific steps in a research project (assuming it has a low learning curve and it doesn’t generate extra work in setup and usability). However, it doesn’t automatically increase the quality of insights. Besides, good tools are often expensive, so there goes “cheaper” away.

  • Your Need Good Research Design

A typical example are online survey tools. These tools have contributed to the democratization of survey programming and the proliferation of surveys. Some are easy enough to use that even the most inexperienced corporate researcher can program a simple survey in a couple of hours.

However, survey programming is not the same as questionnaire design. A quickly programmed but badly designed survey will lead to useless or misleading insights. There is always a quick way to produce trash.

  • You Need Thinking Time to Extract Actionable Insights

In the field of qualitative research, famous for being time-consuming, there is an explosion of tools trying to facilitate qualitative data collection.

Given the increased interest in understanding customer experience, many of these tools do a great job of capturing large amounts of data. Unfortunately, this is also a problem. Extracting useful insights from that takes time and experience.

I love the ability to take time from data collection and invest it in analysis, but this is a hard sell. Often, clients assume the tool will lower the cost of all aspects of the project and still provide better insights.

Large amounts and qualitatively better data generated by video answers, phone interviews, long discussions from bulletin boards, ethnographic interviews, online focus groups with up to 250 participants, and other forms of qualitative data, take time to process, even if data collection is quick. Text analytics tools may help, but today, they still need human intervention to produce actionable insights.

As Chris Hauck, from Lynx Research, recently said in a panel discussion at the 10th MSMR Conference at the University of Texas in Arlington, “we are losing our time to think.”

  • You Need Time To Create Meaningful Data Presentations

At the same time, there is a call for not just data, but for insights, data interpretation, and the story told by the data that can support business decisions.

If you listen to the sales pitch from many technology companies, it sounds like the story will magically emerge from the dashboards produced by the push of a button without human intervention. This is just wishful thinking. You still need thinking time and implementation time to set up those dashboards.

Nowadays, you will find a presentation about storytelling at every market research conference. Speakers often advocate for presenting the voice of the customer using media (video, images, audio) in a meaningful way. Unfortunately, it takes time to create those stories. There are companies dedicated to doing just that, which indicates this is time-consuming and expensive.

Dangerous Illusion

I have worked on both the corporate and agency side. No matter how hard I tried, I could never have the full triad of faster, cheaper, and better market research. I always faced at least one of these three scenarios:

  1. If cost is your main concern, get ready to reduce the scope of the research, the depth of the deliverables, and the quality of the insights. Time is money. Therefore, you will get less thinking time.
  2. If time is your primary concern, and your budget is small, you will need to reduce scope and quality. If you have a large budget, you can meet timing requirements with creative research approaches. It can be done, but it will cost you.
  3. If better insights are your primary concern, get ready to fight for a larger budget, more thinking time, and the help from external resources that can bring diversity, experience, and quality controls.

In short, when you get promised faster, cheaper, and better market research, all at once, ask questions, get the specs, dig deep until you break the optical illusion to manage your own and your team’s expectations.

If you don’t, you will be a victim of the atmospheric conditions surrounding our industry. You will see water in a desert where there are little time and money to dig wells and bring water to the surface.