Responding to the DIY Phenomenon

There has been quite a bit of discussion in marketing research of late about the proliferation of “Do it Yourself” tools. Just about anyone can design a survey, launch it to a pool of respondents and analyze the results.

We could be the biggest pantyhose seller in America, but we don't want to weaken the link in shoppers' minds between Home Depot and do-it-yourself projects.

Bernard Marcus

As a company that has traditionally provided all of these services (and more) for over 40 years, how should we react and respond to this development?

First and foremost, we must realize that what we do is just not about the tools we use, but the understanding of how to actually use these tools. I recently finished reading a fascinating book about making connections between various fields of pure math and the natural sciences, specifically physics. (OK, so maybe not everyone would have the same “fascination factor”.) There was something the author said though, that really resonated with me for the way it spoke to just this situation we face. The author was talking about medical research and the important role that mathematicians play in their work. He stated that it wasn’t so much that the statistical programs were so hard to learn, but rather, “… our ability to formulate the right questions and then go through a cold and unbiased analysis to get the answers. It is really this mathematical mindset that seems to be most useful to those who are not trained to think as mathematicians.” (Taken from, Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality, by Edward Frenkel.)

If you read that quote and replace ‘mathematical’ with ‘marketing research’, you’ll see that it fits our situation pretty well. The key though, is the first part of that quote; the part about “formulat(ing) the right questions” and the “cold and unbiased analysis to get at answers.” What we do – what we’ve been trained to do and have learned to do – the part about being unbiased to get at the right answers – is not something that can be easily duplicated by someone in a client’s position. Their ability to be unbiased is weakened by the sheer fact that they know all that is at stake, given the different potential outcomes of the research. That said, the client must recognize this situation (which they surely do), but also value our unbiased thinking on that matter, for companies like our own to maintain our voice at the table.

The second sentence in that quote speaks to another reason for being for the marketing research firm. This deals more with our unique training and experience. There are certain technical things that we do that are very specialized, including advanced analytics and statistical modeling. Not long ago, some of us were having lunch with a client when the topic of conversation turned to DIY research. This particular client tends to do a lot of their own work in-house using these DIY tools. So we asked them, “When would you look to someone like us?” They replied with something to the effect of, “When something is beyond our expertise, like when any kind of modeling or advanced statistical analysis is involved.”

As a research firm, it is incumbent upon us to remain relevant in this changing landscape. I think you’ll agree that many of the changes that have taken place over the last several years at Marketing Workshop have been done to address these issues. Our new branding – that of a “unique type of market research consultancy”, speaks to this well. Our tagline of ResearchWISE®, which emphasizes the new type of skills that are needed along with the traditional wisdom and science that will always be necessary, conveys this message to our clients, as well.

There is a great deal more that could be said on this topic – perhaps we’ll address it again in this space sometime soon. In the meantime, we will be well served to keep honing our unique skills and mindset, so that when we are invited to participate as the experts, we will reward our client with results and solutions that they could never have come up with on their own.

~ Bud Sanders

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