When should you conduct research in-house, and when should you contract with a marketing research firm (managed research)? Read on…
You should definitely DIY when:
- You have a limited budget. This is by far the #1 benefit of DIY research: it costs much less than managed research. In fact, there are numerous DIY platforms available at no cost, if you can live with the limited functionality. Even if you choose to pay for a DIY platform, many available would take less investment than a moderately challenging project with a market research firm.
- You have a very tight deadline. The pace of business is fast and getting faster. There are times when you just cannot spend one minute more than necessary to get the information you need, and DIY research is well-suited to those times.
- You have in-house expertise and resources. If you have an experienced insights staff, all the data collection and analysis resources you might need, and a good customer platform that allows your customers to be engaged with you, then DIY is the way to go. (Of course, if you need to talk to non-customers, you will need to outsource that research in part.)
- Industry knowledge is critical. Marketing research firms usually have experience with various industries, and they may even be familiar with your industry. However, if deep and specific technical knowledge is required, you may have to rely on in-house resources and DIY.
You should contract for managed research when:
- You need the experience and expertise of a market research firm. Many businesses don’t have the depth of expertise and experience that are found in the average market research firm. You may need a particular analytical tool or your research topic may be challenging, very complex, or highly strategic. It is important to recognize your limitations and get the assistance you need.
- Your topic is too political, large-scale, or high-profile, and you need absolute objectivity. Your managed research partner has no skin in the game so they will remain objective throughout the research. In fact, their professional reputation depends on their maintaining their objectivity, so you can rely on that. Additionally, they can help you present the results in a way that demonstrates objectivity, and protect you from claims of bias.
- You have a problematic internal client. Sometimes, it is challenging for in-house researchers to work with very demanding internal clients, especially if those clients rank higher on the corporate ladder. Your managed research partner can help you manage the project in a way that will preserve your relationship with your difficult colleague.
- You need to focus on your day job. If you are a marketer and market research is only part of your responsibilities, there are times when DIY will be too time-consuming. At those times, managed research is the way to go.
- You need anonymity and confidentiality. Sometimes, respondents will be reluctant to answer your DIY market research survey because they doubt that the information they are giving you will truly be kept anonymous and confidential. At those times, there is no other response that to engage a professional market research firm.
- You need help framing the objectives and questions. Market research agencies have years of experience honing in on and precisely defining the research question and the related information objectives. They know what techniques are needed for what types of questions and how to structure and analyze the data to meet your goals. Rather than going it alone, save yourself the struggle (and time) and get help from a market research partner.
The DIY Continuum
Of course, deciding to DIY market research or contract with a marketing research firm is not that simple. There is a continuum of services available for marketing researchers. You could do everything but buy your sample from a full-service agency or panel provider. You could ask a managed research firm to design the questionnaire, collect the data, and even analyze the data, and you could save your time for analysis and reporting. You can tailor the services you need and contract for only those that deliver value to you.
DIY tools are commonplace now, but they can make it too easy to simply default to an online survey of customers (or people on whatever lists you have). As with every project, you need to think and plan before you jump into research design. What is the research question? What information do I need to answer that question? Who has that information? And what is the best way for me to get it?
There is no doubt that both traditional market research and DIY have their place in the marketing research toolbox. However, the decision to DIY market research should be made cautiously, with a full and honest appraisal of the project, your in-house resources and expertise, and the benefits and disadvantages of your DIY tools.