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Resolving The Market Research Skills Deficit

By Charlotte Pearson

Concept of Market Research Skills Deficit

According to a recent report 75% of UK firms are facing a digital skills shortage – an alarming statistic considering the reliance on IT solutions in the workplace these days.

Unfortunately it isn’t just digital/IT skills which are lacking, there is a deficit of skills within the market research industry which goes beyond this and according to an article from the MRS, it’s not a new problem – it’s been the case since 1947.

The rapidly increasing number of brands opting for a DIY insight approach rather than employing a specialist full service agency has meant that more and more professionals who have little or no market research experience are forced to take the responsibility, not only of running the market research process but also of interpreting the data output.

On the face of it, the positive of a DIY approach is course cost reduction. The risk however, is insight quality. Think about the amount of training and volume of time it takes for a new graduate employed by a market research agency to get up to speed. To be fully and practically educated in every element of every type of project they might be exposed to; and they are surrounded by an experienced team of insight professionals to support them every step of the way.

Those expected to manage DIY projects that have never been exposed to research methodologies/principles, product managers or marketers for example, can’t be expected to have the knowledge or skill set necessary to jump straight in and be effective.

In my role at FlexMR I have worked alongside many end-clients running research on a DIY basis. I have witnessed the mistakes of those new to the discipline and stepped in to guide where necessarily. So, to help all of those DIY market researchers out there, and I anticipate your number will only grow with the need for customer centricity, I have put together a few pointers. For some, these might even be the ‘unknown unknowns’ which are fundamental to strategic actionable insight.

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Operating a DIY market research schedule? Do you know what you don't know? Some great pointers spanning design. moderataion. reporting and community and panel management

My DIY Market Reseach Tips

Design

In my experience there is a huge gap in the design skills of DIY researchers. It’s relatively easy to write a basic survey or topic guide. But to write an insightful survey or topic guide is actually very difficult.

Most commonly I see leading questions and a lack of ‘end game’ consideration. Watch out for these. Both can destroy the integrity of your insight. Be sure that your research objectives are fully covered and that you take into account every possible analysis you might want to conduct based on your outcomes.

Moderation

Less relevant to quant where participants often respond in isolation but essential to the success of interactive qual: effective moderation. Taking the focus group as an example - be they real-time or reflective focus groups are only as good at their moderator. Good design is essential too, in much the same way as the survey but if your moderator isn’t equipped to manage the participant group, it means very little.

A common misconception outside of the research world is the ease with which a focus group will flow - surely it’s just a case of asking your questions, participants will respond further to which you can ask additional questions if needed? But what happens when you have a participant who isn’t giving the detail you need – how do you approach them, how do you manage the prompting? What about the person who has missed the point of the question? Or the people who suddenly go quiet? It’s a skill to encourage people to respond without overwhelming them or demotivating them. Be prepared for all eventualities. In a real-time group particularly, you will have very little time to consider your options. Evaluate ahead and act accordingly.

Analysis

Unfortunately, analysis and interpretation is made a lot harder by poor design and/or moderation. There’s nothing worse than concluding your research to find that there’s a massive gap in the output - that it’s almost impossible to report a particular question due to poor design or that the overall design has missed some part of the brief. So do refer to my tips above.

I have examined the interpretation and distribution of research results and the skills required in a number of my other blogs. There are multiple elements that contribute to true insight, including an understanding of psychology and customer behaviour as well as brand and market. Without the skills and knowledge required to address all elements, only results are reported – not insight.

With this in mind don’t work in isolation. It’s ‘do it yourself’, not ‘do it alone’. Whilst you may not have anyone in your organisation who specialises in psychology or customer behaviour you will have colleagues who can add value in terms of your brand and market. A collective approach will certainly assist in a degree of insight identification. In terms of psychology and customer behaviour, see ‘Resolving the Deficit’ below.

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DIY market research - It's 'do it yourself' not 'do it alone' - Call on the knowledge of your colleagues for added value brand and market context

Panel and Community Management

The number of companies opting for their own proprietary research panels and communities is growing, and many are choosing to manage these themselves – a decision which brings its own unique challenges.

There are many questions you should be asking yourself when managing a panel and/or community to make sure you have the most useful panel/community possible. A personal bug bear for me is database management. Imagine a panel of over 5,000 members. Consider the size of panellist data you are now holding - the profiling data alone will be substantial, let alone the research data. Ensuring there aren’t any gaps in this data and that it is consistently updated is vital to effective research targeting. Remember this - without accurate and current profile data, your research results will be skewed at best.

To give you an idea of the complexity of panel and community management, we’ve been running panels and communities for over 10 years and we’re still learning. With the speed that technology develops it’s not a static practice – it’s something that should be constantly evaluated to guarantee optimum participation, minimum churn and transparent feedback from the panel/community members in question. Different target markets require different management techniques.

Resolving the Deficit

To combat their market research skill deficit, we are finding an increasing number of companies opting for a part service approach with us. It doesn’t have to be us of course as long as your software provider is qualified. (Everyone working client-side at FlexMR has wide ranging experience in running full service research projects – I would advise that you ensure your provider has a similar level of expertise before accepting any research services from them.)

Our DIY clients pick and choose the research support they require in order to maximise the skills of their employees, whilst accepting they aren’t experts in certain areas. And it works for them. It’s ‘smart’. The best of both in-house and agency worlds - guaranteed actionable insight in a timely, economical fashion. If you are working still struggling with your DIY research design, process, outcomes or insights having read my pointers above you may like to consider this approach. And if you have any other pointers for those operating a research schedule DIY please do share them in the comments section below.

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Charlotte Pearson

Charlotte Pearson- Head of Client Services

Personal Bio: Working across media, fashion, FMCG and retail accounts, Charlotte provides crucial support to our part service and DIY clients. She works directly with brand & insight managers to ensure research success.
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