Racing the Snail: Adopting New Research Methodologies Cautiously, But Not Too Cautiously

Turbo stuffed-animal snails, racing

Merrill Dubrow, CEO of M/A/R/C Research, presented the keynote at “Spring Into Action”, the New England Marketing Research Association’s conference last week in Waltham, Massachusetts. “We have a big opportunity in the research industry. Yet everyone is challenging what we do, how we do it, and the timeframe we do it in.” Research firms need to evaluate those technologies and methodologies with the most impact for their customers, while not getting distracted by “shiny toys.”

“With so many new methodologies in the market research industry, there is always a large Share of Voice long before there is a large Share of Spend,” Merrill said. While researchers make excuses, the fact is that adopting new research methodologies and promoting them is a long process. Some of the steps:

  1. Train internal staff
  2. Educate clients
  3. Develop an internal champion at a client
  4. Set up yet another meeting
  5. Close the business after a long, very expensive sales process

All of this with customers that want answers today – “actually, they want answers yesterday!”

When it comes to promoting new technologies: “Isn’t this counter to what clients want and need in this business climate?” Merrill asked. While you want to connect your clients to new technology, it might not be right technology for each client. “Eye tracking, biometrics, social media analytics… You know how all the kids follow the ball in soccer? The ball goes here, the ball goes there: everybody follows the ball. In market research, the loudest voice, the coolest technology, gets a lot of the sway.”

Make sure to ask yourself these questions before running after the ball and adopting a new technology:

  • Is it the right technology for you?
  • Do you have too many new initiatives?
  • Can your staff handle it?
  • Can your clients handle it? Are they conservative or cutting edge?
  • Do you have the right contacts?
  • Can you make money?

“Don’t fall for the Mouse Trap,” Merrill warned. “When I worked at BizRate.com during the dot-com era, every day there was a new good idea. Control the noise. Shiny toys don’t always ring the cash register.”

But carefully evaluating which technologies to adopt isn’t an excuse for inaction. “We move at a snail’s pace,” said Merrill. “In fact, the snail might beat us.  We don’t own much of anything. Why will we own Big Data? Or sentiment analysis?”

Finally, ask yourself, “Where will the research industry be in 2017?” That’s not a hard question to answer, Merrill said. “Positioning your company to get there is hard. If I don’t hit my short-term goals, then I am not around long-term. I have to continue to satisfy clients today, too.”

Jeffrey Henning, PRC, is president of Researchscape International, which provides “Do It For You” custom surveys at Do It Yourself prices.  He is a Director at Large on the Marketing Research Association’s Board of Directors. You can follow him on Twitter @jhenning.

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