Taking Research Design to Higher Ground

Jeffrey Henning’s recent listing of the 10 most popular research-related stories shared on Twitter in the past two weeks is pretty revealing.  While it is great to see Reg Baker on the list with his discussion of the four-step process to response – which I also discuss in my earlier post Qualitative Research & Thinking About How People Think – as well as Reineke Reitsma and her consideration of mode effects, the list tips more heavily in favor of non-design issues.  There is Tom Anderson’s commentary on responding to clients’ changing needs and how to save your research firm from “becoming road kill” (hint: it’s all about positioning!), Edward Appleton on the cheap, quick advantage of DIY research, a NY Times article on “play groups” and the “quick, affordable” choice of Facebook group discussions as replacement for traditional focus groups, and two links on text analytics including Paul Golden on the speed and potential cost savings of automated analysis.

I look at this list and wonder why it is so anemic of discussions or stories about good research design.  I wonder why researchers continue with the long-standing habit of avoiding honest experimentation and debates regarding their research methods, opting instead for a discussion on how to react to clients’ needs, competitive positioning, and – the ever-popular – fast and cheap research tactics.  I am left wondering if the marketing research community will ever focus less on responding to clients’ needs and more on educating clients on sound research design.  I wonder if marketing research firms will ever worry less about their position in the marketplace and put more (or at least equal) effort in raising the bar on the robustness of their research methods.  And I wonder if it is at all possible for marketing researchers to spend less energy on devising ways to cheat research designs in order to cave to inadequate timelines and decreasing budgets.  How many more “Cheaper, Faster, Better with Quality” conferences – a MRA conference I spoke at in 1994 – do we need to sit through?

The marketing research industry is jammed with talented researchers who understand great research.  Yet industry researchers have historically found themselves trapped on a never-ending wheel chasing the next research assignment, sometimes at the expense of good design.  By seizing the opportunity to take research design to higher ground, researchers shake off their reactionary posture – where all client requests are deemed doable and where each new variation in research mode is thrown into the increasingly-crowded toolbox without proof of rigor – and assume a leadership role.  A role worthy of their abilities and one that will ultimately benefit our clients and the profession as a whole.


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