A lot of companies – and I mean a LOT (Google, Microsoft, SurveyMonkey, Nielsen, Zappistore…) – have been making the push into expedited research.  This makes sense, companies want to move faster and more confidently through their stage gate process to get new products on the shelf. More time researching = more expenditure, and less time on the shelf = less revenue. The quicker you can go from idea to distribution, the sooner you have an opportunity to make money. And how great is it to be able to develop a research question, submit it, and get answers in a matter of days or weeks???

Coming from an academic research background, I’m used to research being slow, arduous, exhausting…Sisyphus immediately comes to mind. So what are the trade-offs for expedited research?

It seems expedited research across companies has two key things in common – it is more rigid and it provides fewer metrics than traditional research. Neither of these is necessarily bad, but they shouldn’t be ignored.

Rigid Research

Doing research fast means a lot of the work has to be locked-in up-front. It’s not like market research is a field in its infancy – researchers typically know pretty well which questions are going to be key and how best to ask those questions. Every client is unique of course, but the core needs (Which of these ideas is best?  Why would one concept perform better than another?) are fairly universal. If that’s all that’s needed, great! Clients can utilize nothing but an agency’s template or use a self-service tool that provides questions.

But this is a tool-based approach. The focus here is on providing the inputs necessary to make the tool work, not on finding the best approach for answering a research question.  It’s the least common denominator – what questions do all clients need answered?  Not how can this client’s questions be answered. Maybe self-service tools can help address part of that problem, since a client can select the questions relevant to them, or maybe even create some of their own custom questions. But then you lose the expert analysis of how should a questionnaire flow, what questions can bias other questions, and what’s the best overall picture for this research?  Some mix of these two is needed – some set metrics to expedite the process, but with expert-guided customization to make the research tailored to the client.  You’re not buying a suit off the rack, or having one made from bespoke cloth – you’re getting one tailored to your fit.

Isolated Results

Hopefully, huge surveys collecting every foreseeable data point are becoming more and more rare. The industry in general seems to be moving in this direction, pulling key insights out of all the data noise. We can gain significant insights from less data – finding the key elements that impact consumer behavior means a few key measures can account for more variance than an intensive survey. Rapid research fits perfectly into this strategy – let’s identify the few most impactful metrics and only focus on those.

It’d be great if we could ultimately come up with one single metric that would determine product success – one question that would let us know if a product would be a hit. But we’re not yet at the point (and likely never will be) where we can identify the one, or even two key variables that will tell us everything we need.  We still need to collect at a minimum a handful of different data points.  Quick do-it-yourself solutions and agency templates are great for getting prompt results on these few data points, but the results tend to be isolated.  They are nothing more than the sum of their parts, instead of presenting a comprehensive picture.  It’s great to have a tailored three-piece suit, but less so when each piece is a different fabric. Having an expert that can look at the individual results and weave them together into a meaningful insight can make the difference between product success and failure, between killing a good idea or understanding it’s not right right now.

A Good Tailor

arrowsGood expedited research is fast and effective. It utilizes the advantage of some set measures and standardized results, but it can be modified to the specific research question. And most importantly, it presents a comprehensive solution developed from expert insights.

What is needed for effective expedited research is a good tailor. Clients need someone that knows their fit and can find the best style.  You have an important meeting?  A job interview?  A wedding?  I’ve got just the right style for you, let’s get your measurements.