A Question

How valuable is data to you?  How precious is “good quality” data?  I know the questions are a bit nonsense.  Of course, market researchers find data to be highly valuable and precious.  We’re talking about something fundamental to the task.  However, I wonder if market researchers recognize the true costs to achieve the desired quality of the data.  Particularly, I ask whether market researchers account for the “human” costs in gathering the data – those associated with the participants.

Lower Data Costs Lead to Unconstrained Maximization

The market research industry is filled with low cost options to collect data.  We find many DIY platforms to program and host a survey at little to no cost and with customer databases and website traffic, companies can access participants at little to no cost, too.  In fact, over the past 15 years I’ve been in the business the costs to collect data (programming & hosting a survey and purchasing sample) has declined.

Given this low cost to collect data, market researchers have very little restriction to collect as much data from a survey as possible.  Some methods to maximize data collection include experimental designs (e.g., discrete choice/CBC and MaxDiff), question grids, and survey partitioning, just to name a few.  What do market researchers do with the time they’ve saved?  They add more questions.  Interview length hasn’t fallen, and if you compare online with telephone, interviews have gotten even longer.

But There are Hidden Costs

Thus, market researchers are truly maximizing the data they can collect in a survey.  On top of that, they’re paying less to gather this data.  But I can’t help but be reminded of the saying: “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”  In other words, we need to account for other costs associated with “data maximization”.

One area is simply data overload, and the inability to find useful insights from the data.  Collecting all of the data is wonderful, until you need to sift through it to find something to report.

Another area of rising costs is on participant attitudes.  The constant demand for higher volumes of data must take a toll on participants.  I’m part of an industry group at the Global Research Business Network examining these impacts and devising metrics to identify and diagnose the causes of these negative outcomes.  For instance, an unintended outcome can be a change in brand impression on the brand sponsoring the research.  (Do participants blame brands for bad survey experiences?  And conversely, do participants look more favorably on brands for good survey experiences?)  Or participants can be less willing to provide honest and thoughtful answers, damaging the validity of the results.

The Smart Researcher Always has These Costs in Mind

These hidden costs are serious issues within the industry.  And though researchers are looking for other methods to collect consumer insights data instead of through an interview, asking people to respond to some type of question will always be central to the market research process.  The quality of this interaction will always be “costly”.

Therefore, returning to the question I asked at the start: Just how valuable and precious do you find data?


Jeff McKenna

Critical Mix