It is fashionable today to be a market research nay-sayer. Internal marketing research departments no longer carry the clout (or budgets) they once did. Work that used to be trusted to objective experienced professionals now is assigned to internal folks familiar with Survey Monkey and social media analytics. The death of the survey is proclaimed loudly by data scientists and CXM software companies.
In its wake, the professionally designed survey is giving way to simplistic questions and Net Promoter Scores. Commercial sample and survey software giants are disintermediating independent researchers with services pitched as equal to and cheaper; unsurprisingly, the product is not much more than a flurry of tables expected to speak for themselves, with minimal interpretation. And somehow, this research malpractice seems satisfactory.
Actionable insights into what customers think are being displaced by observations of what customers do, discerned by data scientists who have the tools to study what customers do in greater depth than ever before. A/B testing provides empirical answers to behavioral questions quickly. Strategic research into what underlies that behavior and drives decision making takes a little more time.
Hearing the Voice of the Customer
There will always be a place for understanding what drives people’s decisions, and primary research answers questions about motivations and needs that are difficult to uncover any other way. A well-designed survey remains one of the most efficient ways to talk with customers and one of the only ways to truly talk to prospects who DON’T buy your product or subscribe to your service.
- How do customers and prospects talk about their challenges?
- What features and benefits matter most to their decisions?
- What are the ‘wow’ moments in their journey?
- What makes a brand worth the money?
- What are the barriers to sale?
- What is missing -- what problems haven’t been solved yet?
- Why have customers stopped buying?
Ultimately, the market research industry will benefit from disruption. It will lead to better ideas, more efficient processes and lower costs. I believe strategic primary research will emerge leaner, better and stronger. Already the tools for listening to the voice of the customer have become more powerful and less costly. Secure online research platforms are creating closed communities where researchers can engage with a broader cross section of customers over time and interact in ways that yield incredibly rich qualitative insights. The cost and ease of accessing the right customers via a survey has been reduced to an insignificant fraction of the cost of a project.
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