Don't Blame the Do-It-Yourselfer

Bloggers regularly post about the demise of market research. One consistent topic in these ‘demise’ posts is the rise of Do It Yourself (DIY) research. The argument posits that individuals without research training using survey tools cannot achieve comparable results as they would using a market research agency.

They’re right, of course, but that’s never the whole story. Sometimes, at home, you become a DIY plumber, or landscaper, or carpenter. Why? Because it’s much cheaper. It might be the only way you can afford to make a specific change or address an issue. That doesn’t mean you won’t ever hire a plumber, or landscaper, or carpenter, when the job is too big for you--or you have the budget at hand. Maybe you’ll plan a project with a landscaper where you will do some of the work, and the landscaper will use their specialized equipment to do other parts.

When research agencies dismiss Do-It-Yourselfers, they’re dismissing potential and future customers.

So I’d like to counter this line of thinking with a few points.

  • The right tool for the right price? - When I hear criticism based on cost, I’m reminded of the price versus value equation in decision making. Survey platforms deliver significant value to our clients, who are collaborators working with tight budgets. Some survey research projects would simply not be done if it weren’t for survey tools. They stretch the value of lean research budgets, everywhere from startups to Fortune 500 companies.
  • The right tool or the wrong tool? - Another tactic that I’ve seen is to critique survey tools as lacking in sophisticated analytical tools. A survey platform can be the right tool for the right project--for instance, a topline survey of a house list where the sample size will be too small to support robust cross-tabulation. But they can be the wrong tool -- if we belief that a discrete choice exercise is the best method for to meet a prospective client’s requirements, we might direct them to Sawtooth Software (a high-end platform) or to BrainJuicer or CMB (if they want an agency), for example. The types of decisions that need to be made are key to determining if a survey tool will work for a particular Do-It-Yourselfer.
  • The right tool but hard to use correctly? - One other critique I’ve read is that service and support is not easy to access. My contention here is that platforms where we support MR projects are technology companies. Some are easier platforms than others to learn and to adopt, and like other technology companies that I work with every day (e.g. Facebook, Twitter and Salesforce), I collaborate with an expert when I need to accomplish a task beyond my expertise or bandwidth. Many survey tool users work with us to collaborate on a variety of tasks, from questionnaire design, to survey programming, to custom scripting, to transforming data exports into detailed reports, presentations, and cross-tabulations (DOCX, PPTX, XLSX).

As you’re thinking about gathering insights using online surveys, these are my three recommended considerations: is the tool a good fit for your budget, is the tool the optimal method for your research objective, and do your internal resources match well with the technology?


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