Best PracticesCustomer SurveysMarket ResearchQualitative Research

Market Research Policies

Do you cringe when you hear the word “policies”? Most people do. After all, policies often mean bureaucracy.  But in the case of market research, clear policies will minimize the risk of data quality headaches, customer over-surveying, ethical breaches and more.

Indeed, a thoughtful, well-communicated set of policies is more critical today than ever before, with so many people conducting ad hoc or “DIY” research. Well-intentioned individuals often make mistakes that could be avoided through awareness of a simple set of company-wide market research policies. Even organizations with central market research departments find it challenging to control “rogue” research—but promoting a set of policies will help minimize the risks.

Below are examples of market research policies that will promote basic, best practices:

  1. Frequency. Over-surveying can lead to customer frustration and ultimately, poor response rates. Thus, a key policy is to specify how many times a year a single customer can be invited to participate in research.  Three times? Five times? There is no “right” answer for all organizations—it varies by customer type. But a rule should be in place. In this way, employees can avoid inundating customers with volumes of survey requests.  Of course, this also requires having a mechanism in place to track this.
  2. Quality. All direct communications coming from your company are indicators of your brand’s quality, and surveys are no exception.  You must ensure that a kind of “quality control” resource exists to ensure that nothing sub-par gets released.  This job includes checking grammar and questioning content and logic.  For example, one common complaint about colleagues who do ad hoc research is that they may ask too many intrusive questions (a big turn off for customers). This resource could be a person, a team, or a defined process.
  3. Permissibility. The best way to prevent unsanctioned surveys is to make sure everyone knows how to request and get approval for market research projects.  Your company can specify what types of research must be done through central market research (if it has such a department) and what can be done by other functional areas.  A simple research request process should be in place so that employees can submit a standard form that can be used to trigger an assessment and approval process.  Too onerous? Then how about a simple policy stating, “Any surveys over 10 minutes in duration must be approved by the central market research (or if none exists, marketing) department– no exceptions.”
  4. Methods. Company guidelines should state policies for both qualitative and quantitative methods. For example, “All online surveys must be fewer than 30 questions.” Or, “Recruiting customers for in-depth interviews must be coordinated with the VP of sales at least two weeks ahead of time.”  These are just two simple examples, but you get the idea.
  5. Incentives. An incentive policy should include guidelines for types of incentives and under what circumstances they can be given out.  Inform your employees ahead of time about whether or not your company restricts cash incentives or any type of “gifts” to customers.
  6. Solicitation. A strict non-solicitation policy must be in place. Selling “under the guise of research” is entirely unethical and must be avoided. Even the appearance of solicitation can lead to big problems for your company. Surveys must not be used as thinly veiled lead generation mechanisms. [Click HERE to get more tips on survey design.]
  7. Confidentiality. A confidentiality policy will ensure your employees understand how to use research information responsibly and will show your clients that you value their privacy.  Obviously, it is essential that confidential information is protected, so train people on what information is confidential, how it should be stored, and how it should be treated (internally and externally). Another realm of confidentiality lies in what company information is shared in a research study.  Consider rules that will avoid unwanted leaks. For example, a policy may be that any research related to new product concepts must be approved by the VP of marketing.

Market Research Training Via Policies

While these simple policies may appear obvious to an experienced researcher, it is important to present them to all research-related colleagues. Include policies in employee orientation materials and provide reference materials for all employees who may in any way touch market research—whether it’s the DIY kind or not. Just by raising awareness that there are policies, you will be providing subtle training on best practices.

[Do you have staff that could use some market research training? Check out our online classes; most are under an hour, and all can be viewed conveniently from any web browser.]


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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