What is the real quality of market research data?

A recent survey of market research vendors and their clients/buyers from across the United States found a strong concern among industry vendors for the actual quality of data they are providing to their clients. The client buyers rated their concerns somewhat lower. Does this suggest those of us working in the market research industry are seeing – or at least feeling – something we are loath to tell our clients?

I was recently inundated with messages for an association meeting where one of the celebrated speakers was promoting the topic . . . ‘Surveys are dead – the future is in panels.’ While I might agree somewhat with the first half of the title, only the most gullible would buy into the second half.

Over the last year or two our firm has had the opportunity to analyze and report findings on a variety of issues for multiple trade associations. Several of these efforts are especially memorable for we were not responsible for the data collection. The client organization handled that and we just processed and reported. In one instance, email blasts of a one-page survey were sent to 600 physician members from their own specialty practice association. The survey addressed a political issue of significant financial importance to each of their practices. After repeated requests for a response from the association president over a four week period, the association had received less than 30 completed surveys. In another instance, a client sent a dataset ‘allegedly’ collected from a nationwide panel of executive decision makers within a specific business discipline. When anomalies were noticed in the responses on particular issues which should have been universally comprehended by persons professionally employed in their specific discipline, I asked the client . . . ‘Who actually answered these surveys and do you have a list of the respondents with their organizations and job title attached?’ He responded . . . ‘I’m afraid to ask because I really don’t want to know.’

If the above doesn’t scare you, I suggest you Google ‘jobs in market research’. In the first several pages of results you will find links to the ‘legitimate’ jobs in the research industry from Quirk’s to Monster and Craigslist. You will also see multiple offers to ‘join our panel and get paid’. I was even directed to multiple sites for how-to guides on setting up multiple identities and instruction on how to give the proper responses to . . . ‘tell them what they want to hear so you’ll get picked for the panel or focus group.’ I read one set of instructions on how to ‘be the person you were recruited to be’ – even it isn’t really you!

We are in an industry experiencing significant upheaval and pressure for change, but I for one do not believe this industry has to be sleazy and deceitful. Good primary research does exist – and not necessarily with the largest panel or most prestigious firms. Some of them are actually the most sleazy and deceitful.

So how do you as a researcher or potential client navigate this industry? Stay posted!


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Percy & Company Market Research is led by our President, Adrian Percy. He holds a Masters of Business Administration from Louisiana State University with an emphasis in marketing. He was a faculty member of the LSU College of Business Administration from 1980-1988, and served as an instructor and consultant with the LSU Office of Government Programs in the mid 1990’s. Mr. Percy has published numerous academic and industry articles regarding the healthcare and financial industries.

Percy & Company, headquartered in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has been in the business of market research and strategic planning since 1982. Providing expertise to medical practitioners, hospitals, small businesses, large corporations, and governmental agencies, the company has pioneered novel market research methods and applications across the United States.

Percy & Company are CMS approved for the CAHPS programs; one of less than 100 vendors with that designation. Our 30+ years of operation and many clients provide testimony to the effectiveness of the Percy & Company approach.

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