Looking at the current situation in the market research industry in Germany, it has become very obvious that the demand for more speed in delivering results is more prominent than ever - "Need for Speed” – appears everywhere we look. Luckily, digital transformation has the potential to enable market research with increased ability to serve this need. "Agile", "Rapid", "Overnight " etc. – in many ways has become possible thanks to technology.
Interestingly, the desire for higher speed always goes hand in hand with the expectation of lower prices. Those who say “fast” most often say “cheap”, or at least “cheaper”. The well-known magic triangle of time, money and quality appears immediately, including strong demands to minimize the first and second while keeping the last at least stable. The discussion about the possibilities or impossibility to realize this ideal is in full swing.
The fact that "fast" and "cheap", hand in hand, have climbed the ladder of demands in the world of market research should make you stop for a minute. Let’s take a breath and look outside the market research box where speed was increased:
- High-speed trains in China: The journey from Hong Kong to Guangzhou in under an hour certainly costs more
- Fast lane access in amusement parks, where - for a few extra Euros - you don’t need to queue in the regular line for hours and can get on the attractions faster.
- Amazon Prime and DHL Express allow the goods to be delivered faster to the customers’ home – for a small extra charge
- If you want to see the summary of the Bundesliga earlier than anyone else, you can book a corresponding subscription, which is fee-based
Be it a destination, a quick treat without a long wait, the long-awaited purchase ordered from the internet, the summary broadcast of the victory of the favorite team: to realize the promise of faster results with equal or better quality, a price premium is required. Speed could be a relevant added value with the ability to justify higher prices.
In market research, often the opposite seems to be the expectation: the faster the results, the cheaper it is assumed they will be.
What conclusions might clients reach from this? Well, certainly one (among several others) is that high-speed market research might be expected to be lower quality and therefore should be cheaper (if viewed through the lens of the magic triangle of time, money and quality needs). This is not a bad thing per se. Everyone needs to be honest saying exactly what clients and users of market research should expect. Transparency with the recipients (and purchasers) of our services is essential to maintain trust and manage expectations.
What about the expectation of lower quality and high speed? This exists in the world outside market research once you start searching. Only few would deny that the cheaper burger from the fast food restaurant around the corner does not match the homemade burger in terms of quality. The big advantage of the fast food burger: it is served quickly and it costs less.
The same goes for packaged soups: prepared quickly, does not break the bank too much but the quality of taste might be different compared to your favorite chicken noodle soup made by mom.
"Draw Spiderman in 10 seconds"
There is another example that illustrates the time/quality conundrum. Illustrators and visual artists started a competition called Speed Challenge. It is about all the different results of drawing an image depending on the time allotted. Luckily this is available online. No one manages to produce acceptable results under extremely low time constraints. Quality takes time.
So how does this impact our business? Does this mean that we as an industry can crack the magic triangle and produce stable, reliable quality, cheaper and faster?
We certainly can. In all the above examples where speed is recognized as a desired added value, one mechanism occurred: Automated Processes.
Automated processes are the backbone of Digital Transformation, they make Amazon fast and they make sure that Fast Lane works in amusement parks. They make subscriptions easy and tell DHL which shipments are to be sent with priority. And, coming back to Spiderman, automation can print several hundred laser sharp Spiderman images in seconds.
Automation in market research is not new of course. Standardized processes in online self-service platforms are the best example of this. However, the example of the Spiderman Speed Challenge reveals a paradox very nicely: flexibility is the enemy of standardization, and automation does not go well with custom tailoring. Both sides are important; if we can maintain the ability to accommodate both, we will be able to show how versatile and excitingly diversified our industry can be.
I personally wish that we would stop saying "fast" in the same breath as "cheap". Yes, both can belong together ("good enough"), but not necessarily. And this doesn’t necessarily have much to do with being “agile". The fact that both Fast Food Burgers and Packaged Soups are fast and cheap will not make them “agile food”. Consequently, not all quick and cheap studies are "agile research".
For any marketing and business objective, we should look at the level of flexibility and custom tailoring needed and when the use of automation and standardization makes sense and when it doesn’t.
That's right, the complexity is increasing. But isn’t that exactly what makes our profession and our industry so exciting?!
Christian Dössel works as a Senior Research Director for PRS IN VIVO in Hamburg. In his 19-year career in market research, he has worked with organizations of all sizes, business orientation and culture. He co-organizes the Research Plus event in Hamburg and co-founded mafolution.de, an online service that aims to promote the digital professional exchange of the industry.