The DIY Debate: Why Self-Service is the Future, and Market Research Can’t Hide

There is a lot of debate over the future of market research as it pertains to agencies. I spoke about it with Sanja Licina of CareerBuilder  in the AMA conferences last year and have been in a couple of panels – AMA Atlanta MR SIG along with Phillip Garland from SurveyMonkey.

Let me lay out my thoughts on the subject by beginning with an example: I travel a lot for business and I recently found out about paperless self-service check in. Yes. Paperless. Using your smartphone — Blackberry, iPhone, Droid etc. It’s a unified system that the TSA has put together. Both United and Delta are a part of that program. When you check in online, you get a link to a mobile boarding pass. At the TSA security checkpoint, you simply open up the link in a browser window on your smartphone and scan. No more printing boarding passes.

At the gate, again you scan in your boarding pass by showing the phone screen and hop onto the plane.

Look at the travel industry and how self-service has it become. It started off with airline booking — when Expedia, Orbitz etc. came online and directly disrupted the full-service travel agency business, then web check-in significantly lowered the cost for airlines and now end to end electronic and self service flying. No wonder Virgin America has flights from Seattle to San Francisco for $49! It costs me more money to take a cab from my house to the SEATAC airport than to fly from Seattle to San Francisco! Virgin has scale — my cabbie does not!

The same can be said for many other industries: Banking – When is the last time we went to a teller? Investements: eTrade, Ameritrade. Even real-estate with Redfin and Zillow.

Market research is also heading that way. We see it everyday with our clients – obviously from a tool standpoint, we get called in when companies bring their research in-house. It’s not even a question of cost – it’s a question of power and effeciency. Most folks we talk with need to get data and make decisions FAST. This means having the tools and resources to execute quickly and effeciently. For the most part, that is the reason why many of our clients turn to us.

I also think niche players in the full service market research business will actually expand their market share — and focus more on the niche than being an “Online Survey Expert.”  Market research has to be about insight – not just data collection and tabulation. Self service tools will continuously commoditize that part – and keep lowering the cost. That’s our job – and there is enough competition in the tools space to keep us on our toes. See QuestionPro, SurveyMonkey, Zoomerang et. al.

I also want to point out the shift in the marketplace as to who conducts research. Most companies today put research under a marketing  banner and it falls under the purview of the head of digital marketing for a mid-size company. Their responsibilities include everything from marketing, trade shows, customer sat as well as market research. For most of their marketing needs, they are using tools and services on a self-service basis and go out to agencies for large and critical shifts in the business. They expect the same for Market Research also!

The other audience is Product Managers. Today, product managers are not “looking” towards a research expert to help them determine what is important and what is not. They want to do it themselves – and no one knows the business better than them.

Finally I want to address the nomenclature here – DIY. This is a term the full-service market research industry has coined for tools like SurveyMonkey, QuestionPro, Zoomerang etc. DIY implies – less than professional. We all know that, and lets not pretend otherwise. However, no one in the MR business calls Confirmit, Dimensions (from SPSS)  DIY. I fail to understand the difference. Yes – there are feature, functionality, price and target audience differences. It simply is factually inaccurate to state that a set of tools, based on features are somehow “unprofessional” than another set that is “professional” – in today’s world. Is ConstantContact DIY and ExactTarget not?

Is the head of digital marketing for Qatar Airways, Washington Post, CareerBuilder, FCC, McGraw Hill unprofessional? Well – the good news (for us) – no one outside the MR industry uses term DIY to describe tools! So – all good…Peace.

About Vivek Bhaskaran

Vivek Bhaskaran is the President and CEO of Survey Analytics.


  1. DIY is indeed here to stay, and is getting increasingly more powerful and ‘fool-proof’. Our own response (at least those of us who offer full service MR to clients) is to be relevant through three key capabilities:

    -integrate disparate data sources (integration)
    -extract insights by understanding the context (sector expertise, contextualization)
    -help deploy the insights within client organisations through workshops, etc (activation)

  2. Nicos – Thanks for the response. Makes perfect sense. I did not think about the third option – adoption and activation – good point.

  3. Cathy Harrison says:

    Excellent blog post Vivek. I’ve used these survey tools extensively when I was a corporate researcher and as a freelancer. They have become an essential tool for most research professionals. It’s highly doubtful that any researcher would deny that these tools are here to stay.
    It’s interesting that the airline example was for the ticket agent and not the pilot. Research is getting MORE complex, not less. To product managers and others who don’t value market research expertise: much is lost when cheap and fast become the goal.

    Nicos – great suggestions.

  4. Nice post Vivek and I like the examples from the other industries. The big difference here is the full service firms can be highly relevant as the industry adopts there new, easier to use tools. The way they can do that is by educating their customer base on how and when to leverage DIY tools.

  5. Yep. You mean something like Research Rockstar
    (Kathryn) does…

  6. Thanks for the plug, Vivek! Training info here:

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