Why do clients and agencies only rarely use the ‘best’ method?

I am writing this post from the ESOMAR 3D conference, in Amsterdam. I am hearing a range of presentations, some great, some OK, some applicable, and some theoretical. One question that keeps being asked is ‘Why do people not use the best method?’, for example by combining online and offline ethnography, or by using a specific mobile technique.

IMHO, the answer is that researchers who ask this question are focusing on the wrong end of the process, they are looking at what they want to produce, not want people want to buy. A research buyer, typically, has a business decision to make. In making that decision they need to balance accuracy, cost, and speed.

Ray Poynter

A quick, fast answer that improves the chance of making the right decision can be very useful, clients will happily but this. This is especially true if the answer comes in a format that requires no effort to use. For example, an online survey, with a sample of 1000 consumers, using a 15 minute questionnaire is likely to widely accepted by the business, so it will often be quick and easy to utilise.

Other research methods might produce a better research product, for example more insight, or more accuracy, or more creative, or faster. But if the better method costs more it may not be seen as value for money. If the standard research is seen as good enough, then a better method needs to be the same speed or faster, or it needs to be the same cost or cheaper – in most cases.

Ethnography, neuroscience, and smartphone enabled research can produce some really deep and interesting research. But the extra depth and/or accuracy that these (and other) techniques can offer, usually, comes at the cost of time and/or money. If the cheaper/quicker method is good enough, it will be hard for the ‘better’ techniques to break through. The opportunity for these ‘better methods’ is likely to be limited to those cases where the existing technique is seen as too weak.

Perhaps, not using the best technique makes common sense. In very few markets is the best product the market leader. Few of us drive a Rolls Royce. Companies tend not buy the best photocopier, they don’t usually use the best accountancy firm, few insist on using the best advertising company. So, why would be expect clients to be overwhelmingly drawn to the best research technique?

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