MindFire Communications, Inc.
Consumer research: Should you buy or DIY?
July 15, 2015 | Lynn Manternach, Ph.D.

Consumer research

We’re all trying to figure out how to align what we’re selling with what consumers want to buy. Sometimes that’s easy and obvious. Most of the time, it’s not.

Consumer research can provide a powerful strategic foundation for success. Having a clear understanding of who your customers are, why they choose to do business with you and what they really want from your product or service allows you to focus your resources in ways that ultimately impact the bottom line.

The question isn’t really whether you should conduct consumer research – it’s a matter of how. Should you do it yourself in-house or outsource to the professionals? Most organizations need a combination of do-it-yourself (DIY) and outsourced professional research. It’s important to understand which to use when.

There are two points that everyone can agree upon when it comes to DIY research. The costs are low and use is rising. The fact that DIY research does not require a budget for external costs is a big reason for in-house research efforts.

There are a lot of online no-cost survey tools that allow researchers and non-researchers to design basic surveys in minutes. The tools make it easy to enter the survey questions, deploy the survey in a variety of ways and perform basic analysis of results. Over the past few years, there have been significant enhancements to the design and robustness of online survey tools, including sample questions and helpful tips to guide the efforts of novice do-it-yourself researchers.

Another advantage of in-house research is the firsthand, in-depth understanding you will gain of your customers’ opinions, perceptions, behaviors and needs. Wading through the raw data can be very time-consuming, but it also provides great insight into how your customers think and feel that can be hard to duplicate in any other way.

If you are designing your own survey, here are a few things to consider:

Always start with the end in mind.

For every question you include, make sure you know how you will use the answer. Every question needs to be actionable, rather than nice to know. Don’t abuse your respondents. No one loves a long survey – not even professional researchers!

Take some time to think about who should respond to your survey.

You can only generalize the research results to people who are similar to those you included in your sample. Be sure you have scoped your respondent set appropriately for your project objectives.

Make sure your questions are clear and impartial.

The goal is to understand what your targeted respondents think, not to get them to say they love your product, service or company.

Include open-ended questions.

Essay responses are much more difficult to translate to percentages, but open-ended questions like "Why are you not likely to recommend?” can provide the understanding needed to develop nuanced but effective marketing and service strategies.

While a well-constructed DIY research project can provide important insights, there are some potential downsides that can threaten data quality and ultimately your ability to be successful.

The biggest danger is that DIY surveys can contain fundamental flaws that reverberate throughout the data analysis and subsequent decision-making. There are so many ways research can go wrong if you don’t know what you’re doing. If the research will be used as the foundation for important decisions, such as long-term strategy or brand development, you should consider working with a professional. In addition to making sure the process is methodologically solid and error-free, the pros offer expertise in data analysis that can make a big difference in the clarity of the results.

In some situations, the confidentiality of customer responses is important to the end result. If you need to ask questions that might make your customers a little uneasy, working with a third-party research provider that can assure confidentiality will typically yield better results.

The most important part of the research process is translating data into strategy. The right research company will help you understand what the data means and how it can be used to develop strategies that connect to business objectives and outcomes. And that’s really the point of market research, isn’t it?

This article originally appeared in the Corridor Business Journal.

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