If you’ve spent any time in market research or are a buyer of research, then you’re fully aware of the perceived friction between “traditional” methods and newer approaches. We recently highlighted how the rapid technology changes in market research have brought a feeling of negativity over the industry. We found that many people believe that if companies don’t switch to the new methods they will become extinct or fail to execute research effectively. In other words, people view the two sides of this argument as an “either or” situation. Either companies have traditional methods or they switch to the new methods.
A recent study by UK-based agency, RSM, helps us realize we are looking at this situation all wrong. The study was among research professionals and showed that 93% of respondents used “traditional” methods in the past 12 months vs. only 18% for non-traditional methods.
This study helps reaffirm that the most important thing in market research has been and will always be, answering specific business questions. All too often we get caught up arguing over traditional vs. non-traditional methods. In reality, it doesn’t matter which method we use as long as the business question is being answered.
Sometimes I feel like we think that traditional methods have an expiration date for when they stop working. When new approaches come out we quickly jump to conclusions and say, “Looks like old faithful finally kicked the bucket.” Why does a new approach mean the death of a tried and true approach?
This reminds me of sports, particularly basketball. If you walk into any high school, college, or NBA practice; you’ll see players practicing the same fundamentals that players have been practicing for the past 100 years. Why is that? They still practice the fundamentals because the fundamentals still work. Traditional market research methods are still being used at a high rate because they still work.
If we start to use newer approaches, it’s not because the traditional approaches don’t work. Rather, it’s most likely because the newer approaches work as a nice compliment to traditional approaches.
So, as you can see, it’s not necessarily about which method you use. The focus should be on whether or not the method can answer your specific business question. This is our primary issue with people using do-it-yourself tools like Survey Monkey. We don’t recommend Survey Monkey because we think it lacks the ability to facilitate a nice survey, but rather it’s because, more often than not, the people executing the survey structure it in a way that does not accurately answer the business question.
We can’t stress this point enough. Another good example is in our Return on Marketing Investment (ROMI) work. The very first step in all of our ROMI projects is clearly defining the business question up front. Once we understand what the business question is, we make sure the client has the right data to answer the question. We never want to get to the end of a ROMI analysis and say, “Well, here are the results, but unfortunately it doesn’t answer your question.”
Whether you’re using traditional or non-traditional methods the focus is always the same thing – answering specific business questions. Just because a new method may be flashy and offer a unique way of collecting data this doesn’t mean it more effectively answers your business question.