Market ResearchMarket Trends

Market Research Myopia: What the Industry Isn’t Seeing in its Own Research

 “Market research firm releases pet ownership study: Forgets to survey people who own cats.”

Can you imagine? Conducting a study on a topic, and forgetting to include participants who represent a large percent of the market?

It happens all too often. And we cannot blame the DIY researchers. I have met the enemy, as the saying goes, and it is us.

Currently, two well-respected organizations are conducting research on the market research industry. An important effort, to be sure, and one many of us appreciate. Both the Marketing Research Association (MRA) and Greenbook are to be applauded for investing time and budget into these efforts. When the results are released, they will be widely read and quoted—as they are each time they are published.

But why, oh why, are these surveys effectively screening out the industry players who are influencing the most investment, touching the most actual projects, and in general, rapidly becoming the face of market research to the general population?

I am talking about the technology suppliers. Market research software and platform companies. Companies like ConfirmIt, MarketTools, SurveyMonkey, Vovici and many more.

Defining “Market Research Industry”

Greenbook’s GRIT survey is promoted as, “the leading and most comprehensive survey” of the market research industry. The MRA’s RII is also similarly promoted. But if neither includes the patently important technology sector, is this positioning valid? Do these studies, to be precise, cover trends in the overall industry?

Let’s consider GRIT’s screener:

  • Full service research provider (in-house design, field, data collection, tab/analysis, reporting)  
  • Research consultancy (subcontract fieldwork and/or tab)  
  • Focus group facility, CATI, or online research provider  
  • Other data collection/field and tab  
  • Research group in an academic or other not-for-profit organization  
  • Enterprise (corporate) research department  
  • Advertising or PR agency research department  
  • Secondary research or desk research  
  • Not involved in providing or purchasing research services in any way

So, no clear option for online survey platform companies? Are panel companies buried in “other data collection” with field and tab? No place for related technology or software companies? Sure, that’s a choice to make. But is it, in 2011, still valid?

The MRA survey follows a similar path. It asks participants if they are, “…an End Client [your company purchases market research for your company’s marketing efforts] or Supplier/Data Collector of Market Research?”  

Would a technology company select “Supplier”? To be precise, such firms are not a supplier “of Market Research”.  Maybe panel companies would select it. And of course the many data collection service companies would.  But would a manager at MarketTools? How about one at soon-to-be-acquired Vovici?

The esteemed Honomichl 50 report, the annual publication many of us use to see revenue growth for top firms as a gauge of industry growth, also excludes the important technology sector. Look over the “Top 50”; does anyone else find it odd that a report on “US-based research spending and employment” does not include technology companies?  ConfirmIt, MarketTools, SurveyMonkey, and Vovici are all absent—yet these companies are huge forces with a significant impact on how market research is conducted.  Shouldn’t their revenue and employment be part of the picture?

Trending Studies

The authors of these studies have defined the industry from the traditional perspective of market research agencies (or “firms”, if you prefer) and buyers. If they change this perspective, it would change their trending ability, since year-to-year comparisons would have to be adjusted. Just as anyone doing trending studies knows, it is very painful to change key components of data collection instruments. Still, sometimes it must be done; is the time now?

Researchers Doing Research on Research

For all of the wailing and shouting that the industry is changing, why is it that many of us still act like it isn’t? Technology companies are fundamentally changing the research process by making it easier, less costly, and in some cases, more effective. Can industry surveys that screen out technology providers really be representative of industry trends?

I look forward to all points of view!

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Kathryn Korostoff

Kathryn Korostoff is founder and lead instructor at Research Rockstar. Over the past 25 years, she has personally directed more than 600 primary market research projects and published over 100 bylined articles in magazines. She is also a professor at Boston University, where she teaches grad students how to analyze and report quantitative data.

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3 thoughts on “Market Research Myopia: What the Industry Isn’t Seeing in its Own Research”

  1. Fair points Kathryn and I have to agree with you; we did not do a good job of using language or descriptors that are better fits for tech providers, although in all fairness the intention was for them to fall into the “other data collection/field & tab” category which is where the panel and tech companies have opted to fit in the past. A more discreet or granular breakdown would make more sense and I think we’ll make sure to make that change before we field again in December!

  2. I agree with you Kathryn. As viable segment(s) of the MR industry universe, they should be enumerated and trended. What ever happened to “mutually exclusive and exhaustive” as an important criteria for valid research?

    Obviously, if they provide more than just a research vehicle (ie design/analysis/reporting) the should be considered suppliers. Otherwise, create a segment called “facilitators” for them. The Webster’s definition of that word fits for what they provide.

    The MR profession has changed significantly (pun intended) in the last 25 years… mostly for the better. We have new, viable, methodological “toys” to work with and learn from. These must be accounted for and trended. It’s not only our job but our legacy and future.

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