by Mark Travers
The first ever DIY Market Research Conference took place in New York December 3-4, where corporate researchers and suppliers gathered to discuss the merits, challenges, pitfalls, and opportunities of the emerging do-it-yourself trend in research. In typical DIY fashion, the coat check was self-service, lunch was grab-and-go, and even the happy hour was pour-your-own. None of this, however, deterred this resourceful group of researchers from sharing some great ideas during the two-day event. Here’s a recap of some of the key themes and insights.
01. DIY IS STILL A SMALL PART OF THE CORPORATE RESEARCH MIX
Yes, DIY methods hold promise for the future. However, don’t feel overwhelmed by the trend. Even companies who do quite a bit of in-house DIY projects are still seeing it as ~20% of their overall project allocation. DIY research has its time and place, but in many ways it should be viewed as a complement to traditional full-service research.
02. DIY IS NOT SOMETHING TO BE AFRAID OF
Eric Whipkey, of Navy Federal Credit Union, confronted the elephant in the room—namely, the trepidation surrounding DIY research. Clients worry that their job responsibilities will grow. Suppliers fear that demand for their services will decline. Whipkey, however, doesn’t see it that way. Sure, there are efficiencies to be gained by leveraging software-as-a-service tools that enable DIY methods. However, the DIY trend stands for more than just applying new tools to improve workflows and reduce budgets and timelines. It’s about becoming smarter as a field—embracing new technologies and methods to become better, collectively, at uncovering insights. Strong partnerships between clients and vendors will continue to thrive in a DIY research world, but they will take on a different form as the field evolves.
03. IF YOU CAN PROVE VALUE, THE RESEARCH DOLLARS WILL BE THERE
Chika Okoro, of the online retailer FabFitFun, shared her inspiring journey about building a research function from the ground up. She started as a one-woman team with a research budget of $0. At first, she had to bargain with other business units to borrow budget and cobble together the resources needed to execute projects. After a few successful studies, her equity in the company began to grow. Now, three years later, she has a team of 7 people and a six figure research budget—something she couldn’t have imagined when she first started. Her lesson is this: if you can demonstrate the ROI of your research, the money will be there. She continues to conduct research in-house, but now has the ability to seek out vendor partnerships when it makes sense to do so. Inspiring words for all of us in the insights space!
04. OBJECTIVITY CAN BE A BARRIER TO DIY
DIY is useful, but it isn’t the be-all, end-all for the market research industry. For instance, Whipkey and Michelle Thevil McDonald, of Clif Bar & Company, suggest there are certain projects—especially studies requiring a high degree of objectivity—that necessitate outside partnerships. Specifically, McDonald is concerned that confirmation bias can influence the results of studies when projects are managed entirely in-house. She protects against these concerns by shuffling her staff’s roles when working on projects (e.g., if Shana owns the project, Tara will do the interviewing and reporting … and vice versa). However, the need for external partners is unavoidable in certain cases. Andrea Stokes, formerly of Marriott International, offers the following five pillars for when not to DIY a research project: when the ask is too complex, when language/cultural translations are needed, when the results must help to defend or prevent a large investment, or when the CEO needs to make a business case to the board of directors.
05. LEVERAGE CUSTOMER COMMUNITIES
Saulsbury, Rob McLoughlin, of the publisher PopSugar, Ashmeed Ali, of BuzzFeed, and others have found considerable value in leveraging customer communities for research. Such communities may not be “representative” in the classical sense, but they can be effective for achieving quick answers to pressing business questions. Most organizations with DIY research capabilities are leveraging these “super user” or “core customer” communities for research purposes. If your organization isn’t, it might be time to start.
06. SURVEY EXPERIENCE IS STILL PARAMOUNT
DIY is often synonymous with shorter timelines, smaller budgets, and “good enough” research. While tradeoffs are inevitable when conducting DIY surveys, seasoned DIY practitioners, such as Kelsy Saulsbury of Schwan’s Food Company and Patricia Houston of MMR Live, encouraged attendees to “respect the survey experience.” Write surveys with respondents in mind, keep surveys short (<20 questions, and even as short as 1-2 questions), and don’t over-survey your customers. Be respectful of respondents’ privacy (e.g., don’t force responses and only ask demographic questions when necessary). Remember, surveys are a customer touchpoint and, as such, should reflect positively on the sponsoring brand and on the market research field more broadly.
It’s a brave new world in DIY market research. I’m looking forward to seeing the opportunities DIY brings to the research industry and how these developments can help us all deliver more actionable insights. As an industry, let’s continue to push the boundaries of research innovation!
Mark Travers, Ph.D., is an Account Executive at Burke, Inc. He can be reached at email@example.com.