The Complete Guide to Choosing a Market Research Platform

Paul Hudson

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Sophie Grieve-Williams

    You have recruited your market research team, agreed your budget with your managers, so how do you go about getting the most from this resource?

    Traditionally in the market research world, you would have had to employ a full service agency to collect the data, analyse it and report it back. There was little choice as data didn’t come cheap and had to be collected by traditional methods such as telephone or physical interviewing. Qual had to be conducted in focus groups or in people’s homes.
    Today, thankfully, you can get far more from that budget: the internet has opened up a new world order in data collection and analysis techniques. But the choices you make will still have a big impact on how much you can get out of your resources – your team and your budget.

    After recruiting your team and agreeing the budget, the main question you should ask yourself is what research software tools do we need? This is a very broad question and should be quickly broken down into four questions:

    1. What type of analysis software will we use?
    2. Do we require data reporting and visualisation tools?
    3. What data collection platforms will improve our effectiveness?
    4. Will a long term panel or community enable a faster response to stakeholder needs?

    These questions will help you narrow down your needs and will structure your search. You shouldn’t start a search for anything without defining your needs; these four simple questions will do that for you. They will also influence the specifications for the software and platforms that you do need.

    I’m going to take each question in turn and help guide you through the decision process.

    1. What Type of Analysis Software?

    Before we get into the guts of this guide, ask yourself how much analysis your team will be doing internally themselves. This will define whether you need analysis tools. Do you want simple descriptive data, percentages in tables or advanced cross-tabulation and filtering? Will you be doing statistical analysis such as significance testing, regression modelling, correlations or even factor analysis?

    These latter techniques may indicate you need a stand-alone stats programme such as SPSS. If it is cross tabulations, then you may be able to forego a standalone tool and look for these features as part of a data collection platform.

    2. Do you Require Reporting & Visualisation?

    It is important to make a distinction between analysis and data visualisation. They require two very different types of system but often people use words such as ‘Analysis’, ‘Dashboard, ‘Visualisation’ and ‘Reporting’ interchangeably. They are distinctly different and there are platforms that specialise in each.

    Tread carefully. Really think and question yourself about what your business and stakeholders will respond to – and how often you need to deliver to them. Also think about time; good data visualisation isn’t achieved quickly. There is no magic button even when you have the right package!

    Data dashboards differ widely, so also think about what you want from one – a true dashboard is made up of charts or graphics that update in real or near-real time. Don’t confuse this with visualisation tools or analysis tools. And don’t forget a lot can be achieved with a good old fashioned PowerPoint presentation!

    3. Which Data Collection Platforms Will Improve Effectiveness?

    You must know the type of research you are going to need to do – and the frequency of it. I’d always recommend making sure you have both quant and qual covered. This means you have options for a variety of different techniques within each, but think through the business needs carefully.

    There are hundreds (literally) of different platforms for running surveys and I can’t hope to cover them all here, but there is something to cover every budget level possible, so you need to think carefully about the type of functionality required, the frequency of surveys and where your sample will come from.

    From a functionality perspective, you must ensure the platform has a really good mobile experience for respondents – but make sure it is easy and automatic to use as you don’t want to lose time having to worry about complex programming or set-up.

    Is it just a survey platform you require or do you need some form of analysis tools within it? Most survey software providers offer some form of analysis from within the platform, but they vary hugely, so before you book demonstration, decide what you need from analysis. Your answer to question 1 will help. For example, if you decide you need complex statistical analysis then maybe you should be looking to use a programme such as SPSS alongside the survey platform. Do you require cross-tabulation and complex filtering?

    How you want to chart and report the findings (the answer to question 2 will help) will define the type of exports you need and whether you need lots of analysis tools within the survey platform itself. Software providers are notorious for providing very advanced functionality that users never, or very rarely, use – remember you are paying for these analysis functions so make sure you need them!

    Think about where your sample will come from as this will define whether you want to use a DIY system from a panel provider such as Instantly or CINT. If you have your own distribution list then you will need the ability to upload or connect to a different data source rather than being integrated with an access panel. The standard is to upload Excel (or .csv) files into your survey platform. If you want your surveys to be always open or available to everyone then you need the ability to generate links that you post onto websites or social media sites.

    The last thing (not the first!) is to think about the question and routing types available. My advice is not to get too bogged down with this side of your requirements; just make sure there is a wide range and it provides flexibility for you. However, I would recommend you look for some options to use the latest ‘drag and drop’ style of questions – but check the system doesn’t use Adobe Flash as your surveys won’t work on Apple devices!

    In terms of online qual, platforms offer a wide variety of functionality – think about managing an online and mobile diary study, running online live chat focus groups, reflective forum discussions (or question board groups) or testing creative designs through tools such as our own SmartboardMR.

    Online qual offers you the opportunity to break out of the survey straitjacket but to also reduce your costs of running qual research, whilst simultaneously increasing the representativeness of it. Online qual is not the poor relation of traditional qual and offers many benefits over face-to-face qual – convenience, speed, video, in-situ feedback, cost etc.

    Ask your potential partners what they think the benefits are and challenge them to demonstrate them too. I would argue you can get greater depth in qual research by turning to online methods – simply because you can increase the range of methods you use in a project (and use triangulation approaches to get greater robustness) without increasing cost.

    When you look at online qual platforms, ask about the flexibility and range of tools available since this is the big advantage you should be seeking to benefit from online qual. Ask about user experience and ease of completion. Ask about sample and participant control, as you don’t want to get a poor response from your online qual. Try to find a qual platform that is integrated all into one place too as this will enable you to combine the methods within the same project easily and without damaging the participant experience or making it inconvenient for them.

    4. Will Long Term Projects Better Serve Stakeholder Needs?

    So we’ve talked about qual and quant collection methods, but think hard about whether a panel or community will benefit you. Not every survey and qual platform will be able to cater for this, so when considering this question think long-term, as ideally you need a platform that can grow with your needs. A panel offers the opportunity to increase response rates (through better engagement), reduce field time (because your sample is profiled and ready to go) and increase the amount of research you can do (because of efficiencies of scale).

    Our platform offers the opportunity to upgrade to a panel at any time and uniquely incorporates a wide range of qual tool.

    A community tends to be a smaller and more engaged set of customers. If you are looking for this then make sure the platform provides plenty of features that are designed to engage your participants and keep them coming back – for other reasons than incentives. There should be plenty of features borrowed from social networking such as a social status, member areas, opportunities to message each other, maybe a blog area or personal profile pages. All of these will reduce the effort you need to put in to making it successful.

    5. Beware the Pricing Model...

    Every platform will be priced differently but providers are notorious for having lots of hidden extras, so beware! Some will price per respondent, some by time, some by functionality, some will offer unlimited use and others will use a mixture! Be careful too about the so-called free providers. Nothing in life is for free. Free only means free if your use is very light or your requirements very simple. SurveyMonkey is a great tool but it is priced per user, so if you have lots of users you may be better looking at an enterprise system such as ConfirmIT or SNAP.

    So, now you know what to look for, this should be your checklist:

    1. Do you want standalone analysis tools or can you cope with simpler functionality?
    2. Can you get the best out of data visualisation and have the time to invest in creating them?
    3. Do you need a real-time data dashboard or are you looking to simply report using PowerPoint?
    4. Check your understanding of these terms and don’t be misled by the platform sales team; make sure you know your reporting needs.
    5. Review whether you need qual or quant and decide what type of data collection platform you need – use the questions I’ve raised to think about your requirements.
    6. Finally, think carefully as to whether a panel or a community may help you in the long term – do you have lots of requests for research and is there an advantage to faster response times?

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