Tom Webster, writing and speaking

Where I Earn My Money

Added on by Tom Webster.

I had a great chat with a well-known blogger the other day about research, specifically the best way to set up a DIY survey to gain information about his readers. As a professional market researcher, I've had to come to terms with DIY research, and have opted to help people do it better, rather than fight it, where appropriate. Still, one question my blogger friend asked highlighted the damage that the DIY research culture has done to the perception of my humble profession. He asked me, as many other friends and colleagues have done in the past, if I would look at the results of his survey when it was done. Of course, I am happy to do so, but it clearly articulated the perception that DIY research has created - that anyone can ask the questions.

You might think that a professional survey researcher earns his or her money in the analysis of the data, and that's partially true. Honestly, though, I earn my money in the questions. Anybody can write demographic questions, or usage questions, or even like/dislike questions to some degree of competence. The really great questions, however, are the ones that reveal what consumers want, need and desire without them having to articulate what they want, need and desire.

No one is passionate about a product they haven't seen yet. The art and skill of the research professional is to ask the questions that can root out that passion without placing a cognitive burden on the respondent, or requiring them to do your jobs as marketers. So, yes, hopefully I and my #mrx brethren add value at the back end of the process, making sense of the data. But, in market research, as in computer science and cooking, one law remains true: garbage in, garbage out. I earn my keep asking questions. I'm humbled and grateful when people ask me to help analyze their data, but the truth is - you asked me too late.