Stop Calling It “DIY Research”

Circle and SlashOne of the interesting debates in the market research community is over the concept of DIY research (DIY stands for do-it-yourself).

In my view, the distinction between “DIY research” and “assisted research,” as it were, is no longer as relevant as it once was.

Evolving technology has enabled a sharp increase in the number of options for researchers to “do it themselves” (including technology provided by the sponsor of this blog, Survey Analytics).

Some feel DIY is a scourge, enabling a tsunami of poorly-conceived and poorly-executed research and taking business away from market research consultants.  A few examples of skepticism about DIY research can be found in this blog post by Sean Jordan of the Research & Planning Group, and in this blog post by David Bakken of KJT Group.

Others feel it is a good development, the inevitable hand of progress and customer empowerment.  This post by Steve Quirk and this article on the MRA blog by Kathryn Korostoff are emblematic of the pro-DIY point of view.

I agree with those who feel it’s a positive development.  Enabling customers to make choices is a very good thing; in fact, there can be no other way.  Thanks to the internet and technology, we are in a new age of customer empowerment.  Some form of DIY is an inevitability in nearly every industry.

The reality is that the market is speaking.

In-house corporate researchers, who in many cases have supplier-side experience by the way, increasingly see value in tools that enable them to conduct projects without necessarily needing to hire a research consultant.

Those who misuse DIY research will fail just as do those who misuse assisted research.  Isn’t that just Adam Smith’s invisible hand at work?

There will always be an important role for trained research consultants.  Smart companies know when to bring them in and when they are superfluous.

DIY research doesn’t merit being called its own separate type of research (as the name implies).  Rather, it’s a toolset within market research – a toolset whose commonality is not requiring an outside consultant.

Right now the term is being used to divide the industry rather than unite it.  Survey Analytics CEO Vivek Bhaskaran described the term “DIY research” in another Research Access post as “a term the full service market research industry has coined [that] implies – less than professional.”  This reminds me of how in the States prominent Republican politicians often refer to the opposition party as the “Democrat Party” rather than its actual name, the “Democratic Party” because of the positive connotations with the word “democratic.”

Words matter, so let’s start referring to the former “DIY research” in a more considered way.

Feel free to give your suggestions for terminology in the comments section below.

About Dana Stanley

Dana is the Editor-in-Chief of Research Access.


  1. Hey Dana, Wonderful piece; Inspired by this, I am now planning to do dabble in self medication (a term coined by by professional medical practitioners to suggest that my skills are less than theirs- how dare they?) as well as start giving my prescriptions to others. Let me see if someone calls me a quack. Self diagonosis (it does not matter I don’t know the spelling of that) and medication will save me quite a bit of money.Very handy in these times of recession. And prescribing to others will earn me some money as well. You are right- all these specialists are thoroughly overrated. Thanks for letting me see light
    Sankara Pillai
    [email protected]

  2. Andrew Jeavons says:

    Sankara – witty, but really inaccurate I would say. MR companies like to propagate the myth that what they do is deep and meaningful and only they are capable of doing it. For some MR this is true, for a lot it isn’t. MR companies have traditionally made their money by being able to collect data and plan complex surveys. Equating MR with medicine is far from reality as to be utterly risible. Indeed most of MR is below the level of psychology 101 courses (and I was a research psychologist for years). So yes, DIY MR is very possible. It is the MR companies who were not contributing anything more than data collection that complain about DIY research, not those that actually did some real work…

  3. This analogy only holds true if you are and MD who has decided to self-diagnose. Which happens all the time, by the way.

  4. I don’t need a doctor to give me aspirin, take my temperature, or show me how to remove a splinter. I have the tools and skills to do these things just fine.
    If I need surgery, I see a surgeon.
    If I have complex symptoms, I call my doctor.
    But not every medical-related need requires booking a specialist. Not every research need requires 10 years of MR training.

    But the bigger issue is this: the phrase “DIY” is being used too often to refer to in-house research generically–and that is just wrong.

  5. Nick Tortorello says:

    Any new survey technique can be used or abused. However, with DIY research there is a tendency to write questions in large corporations to substantiate managements points-of-view. (After all not many employees have the courage to tell the CEO that his favorite product or brand is a dud). Moreover, many brand managers tend to write questions which become their own self-fullfilling prophecies. Most corporate researchers will tell management what they want to hear and not necessarily what is objective or true.

    The benefit of being an outside observer or researcher is that senor management may want to kill the messenger of bad news and fire you, but the outside expert still has a job. Another axiom of the research business is that the only thing worse than being wrong is being prematurely right. Being the first to tell corporate management they are wrong to hide a company crisis, when in the long run it is best thing to do, will not get the internal researcher promoted.

    Inside company researchers are also not likely to uphold the Codes of Standards and Ethics that CASRO and AAPOR regularly promote in the face of an arrogant management.

    For all these reasons, DIY or Assisted Research has its place but so do outside research consultants, who are more likely to be objective and to tell like it is, even if it may mean losing future research assignments or projects with a particular client.

    Nick Tortorello

  6. People often forget that in-house research professions for more established companies/brands ARE experts with 10+ years of experiences.

    Dana is dead-on when he says that the distinctions are no longer relevant. Technology is changing everything about the MR supplier value proposition. Very basic surveys can be more than efficiently managed- and cost-effectively- with in-house talent.

    I agree with Kathryn… suppliers provide great services and guidance for more complex projects and I would add that they can also be great resource for smaller firms where they may very well need help applying a bandaid.

    @ Andrew, there was probably a better way to make your point without disparaging the intellectual requirements needed to do MR. I believe that Kathryn’s analogy was apt, but she could have just as easily mentioned other technical professions. The variations between projects and requirements are as vast as the landscapes they cover. I would place the intellectual rigor of an advanced analytics expert or user expert at Apple in the same class as MD anyday- they just serve completely different functions.

  7. Andrew Jeavons says:

    Well there is also no reason for people to be disparaging about DIY research – but that happens too. I stand by what I say. And don’t get me started about the level of statistical knowledge in most of MR…;-)

  8. Leonard Murphy says:

    Great post and debate. I think the core argument here is more about “insourcing” vs. “Outsourcing”. The reality is that one of the major outcomes of most any disruptive technology is disintermediation, and the sector that is on the receiving end of that is never happy about it. That is what MR is experiencing now.

    I have said, Andrew said it here, and others have been trumpeting the same message for quite some time now that data collection simply cannot be the core revenue driver or value proposition of the market research industry, or at least for any firm that doesn’t have syndicated data, proprietary methods, or technology products. That is going to be a pretty massive shift in terms of business model and human capital strategies for many companies and obviously they are not thrilled by it. History is littered with examples of whole industries that disappeared because they could not adapt to new paradigms and it is entirely possible (although I hope not true!) that MR could join the dustbin of history if we don’t figure out how to evolve.

  9. Hi guys:
    Despite my initial post, am entirely in agreement that MR industry today cannot boast of consistent quality across researchers and by the same researcher across time. I also agree with those who say that there is nothing wrong with DIY if the person on the client side is qualified enough to to it. I also think that like the traditional advertising industry, MR industry too faces grave existential questions.
    I think the key question in this debate is: Can we have a gold standard for project management and quality of analysis? If a DIY project satisfies those criteria, then it should be fine. Over time, MR industry itself has been guilty of diluting standards of product delivery. So the real question is, who will bell the cat?

  10. David Handel says:

    While I totally agree with Dana that DIY research is not a separate type of research it’s definitely a game changer and “DIY” is a decent self-explanatory moniker for now. I don’t consider Kayak & Expedia new types of travel service – the essence is the same as when I used to call my travel agent a decade ago – to book a flight/vacation but the way I can do it today is so much more efficient that it has become mainstream. I disagree that DIY research is only about new and more “intuitive” toolsets. It enables anyone from an entrepreneur, startup and small business owner to an employee in a large corporation to collect the opinion of a target market in a matter of hours without having a big budget or a couple of weeks at their disposal. It has already extended the boundaries of the industry from a very narrow list of corporate clients to the rest of the world practically overnight.

    Yes, there will always be a place and time for professionals but what’s just happened in MR industry is very consistent with other changes that we’ve experienced in many sectors the past decade. Technology helps us to do so much more by ourselves which means savings in cost and time and that’s the essence of any DIY service. I think that the term DIY Market Research will soon become outdated because it’ll become the default method of conducting research and then we’d have to label the professionally conducted MR as something else.

  11. Steve Swanson says:

    A tool is a tool no matter whose hands it ends up in. The end result will speak for itself. If you know how to use a bag of tools, you’ll be able to build a house. If you only know how to use a hammer, your house may not turn out well. But perhaps your intention was to build a tree fort. No one would call a general contractor for that.

    With market research, it is easy to design a survey to get the results you are looking for. Ask any politician. But if you want results that are objective and can be used to make business decisions, then you need someone who can create a house you can count on. If that person happens to be in a research department of a company, so be it. If that person happens to be a research consultant, so be it.

    The tools will always only be as good as the person who knows how to use them, regardless of what position they hold. Obviously, there are many who don’t know how (or maybe more importantly, when) to use it, and this discredits market and opinion research as a whole, especially if they present it as “research.” No one would present a tree fort as a model home, but non-objective, biased research is a much easier thing to “hide,” because the presenter is relied upon to visualize the house instead of someone actually seeing it.

    I certainly agree about not seeing a doctor for a headache, and going to see one if you need surgery, but what could be a problem is if one self-diagnoses thinking they have a headache, and it turns out they have a brain tumor, it can have disastrous results for the decision-makers. The key is to know yourself and when you need to bring in help to make sure your research is what one needs it to be. If someone needs objective research, with little sampling error, and they know how to achieve it, they should not hesitate to go for it. If someone needs objective research, with little sampling error and they don’t have a clue, but are willing to take a stab at it, I think everyone in the research community would ask them to seek help from either others qualified in their department internally or from an outside source. If a tree-fort is presented as a model home by a DIY enthusiast, you can’t disparriage the building community. But if research is wrong because of bias, methodology or sampling, it is easier to condemn research as nothing more than palm-reading. And you can’t really blame it for occurring. In fact, for someone who doesn’t seek help when they need it, it is nothing more than palm-reading.

  12. Steve Swanson says:

    Apology on spelling…typing too quickly. “disparage” not “disparriage” in my previous post.

  13. Shane Pearse says:

    Unfortuntely for the MR industry everyone thinks they can write good questions, and many fail to understand the importance of using appropriate sampling and statistical techniques to end up with useable information.

    Perhaps there needs to be clarification over the use of the term “DIY Research”. DIY implies an activity undertaken by someone without appropriate training or qualifications. For a suitably qualified/experienced in-house researcher, it’s not really DIY is it, when contrasted with a marketer who thinks they understand how to conduct research as they did a paper at university years ago.


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