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Insight Blog

Read the latest thinking from the crossroads of marketing, insight and technology.

5 Lies Your Market Research Agency Is Telling You

You may have thought you had it all sussed out. You might have found the perfect agency partner. But there is often more than meets the eye when it comes to the inner workings of research agencies.

So what is really happening over the fence - in the offices, minds and daily lives of those trusted partners? These are a selection of the most common untruths we’ve heard uttered by agency side researchers over the course of the past few years:

1. Presentations are Full of Scientific Rigour

Most researchers face a tough dichotomy in their day-to-day lives. Should they be scientists or storytellers? Every time you listen to an insight presentation, if it is engaging, provokes emotion and interest, then you know you are working with a great partner who has the skill and passion to both weave together data points and present them in a memorable way.

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"Every researcher faces the tough choice of presenting data as a scientist or storyteller."

But there is a tension - a paradox - in storytelling. Once you have the idea and you’ve spotted a story developing, something important changes. Research and insight agencies behave like scientists until the moment when a good story is found. Many are guilty at this point of becoming journalists – seeking out evidence to support, verify and validate the spotted theme. It may give the story depth and deeply illustrate the characters – but at what cost?

If it resonates with you and your stakeholders, it feels like the right truth. But this isn’t the only story that the data tells - it is just the one that has been selected. There are always many truths to be found in the data. If the narrative is entirely new or surprising, it is because your agency has found a new pattern in the data… from a truly objective point of view.

2. Segment Personas are Real, Living People

Payday Priya, High Rolling Hank, Slick Selena etc. You know who I mean. So: here is the scenario - you have a great segmentation analysis from your agency. It groups your customer population based on all the important characteristics and your marketing team are applying it well, with a good understanding of the benefits.

You have brought this to life with rich qualitative personas and produced a caricature for each of them. Isn’t it fantastic that Payday Priya and High Fashion Halle live now in your business, guiding your product and marketing teams to communicate and promote sales with your customer base?

Your stakeholders come over to your desk and tell you they are sure they saw Priya in the street! You and your agency have embedded them so well that the personas have become real. But, remember, they aren’t real people. Ultimately, these are representations of the most common characteristics within a much wider group – which means that you will actually struggle to find a real life example of Payday Priya out on the street. But there are many agencies that will let you believe that it is easy to find them, purely to strengthen the perceived value of their research.

3. Everything is a Fact

When building a strong case for recommendations, all of the insights will be presented with confidence. A robust analysis of an appropriately sized select sample combined with a mix of numbers and quotes, videos, imagery filling the story full of evidence, presented as facts. But be warned…

“There are no facts, only interpretations.” - Friedrich Nietzsche

A particular dangerous tendency of many research agencies is to present interpretations as facts. That is (to them) a natural part of building a convincing argument. However, you need to remember these facts are not necessarily universal truths. Instead, they are interpretations, a grouping of relevant evidence at a particular snapshot in time. Knowing this will guide you when it comes to new research enquiries and also when it comes to covering questions from that piece.

This is a benefit as the data may highlight relevant points to be considered in a new study. It is entirely possible to look at the same data and build another story. But it can also be a pitfall if you try to extrapolate the story further from that original study. Your agency will have conducted a full and detailed analysis and if they confidently report a finding with a plethora of facts it is because they have found them.

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"The facts your research agency present are only interpretations of data - and not infallible."

The presentation may also contain hints of other emerging patterns and potential applications of the findings. These can be very exciting and leave you wanting to dig for more. But if it is only a hint in the report, it is because there wasn’t any more data to present in order to support a full breakdown. You will need to run more research or access more data sets to explore that line of questioning.

4. This Research Alone is Enough to Guide Your Business Decisions

Some market research studies do have a longer term or even continuous element to them that allows them to guide important business decisions such as customer panels. These forms of research allow the voice of the customer (sometimes known as VoC) to be integrated into business growth plans, keeping the business aligned with the changing needs and demands of customers.

But many studies are commissioned on a piece by piece basis. The very best have a clearly defined scope at the outset. That’s not to say that an agency won’t work responsively with a brief that moves dependent on immediate business requirements – they will. They will do everything they can to meet your needs and help you achieve business success.

However data and insight interpretation alone won’t provide you with everything you need for a successful business plan. There will always be external market, competitor, even societal shifts that either improve or sometimes devalue insights over time.

5. Integrated Qual & Quant Research Doesn’t Exist

Using combined methods to have a confident understanding of the business challenge can appear at odds with the need for speedy insight. So often the outcome of conflict is a decision to run a quantitative survey alone, hoping it will provide some alluring numbers that feel representative of the market. After all, now more than ever, the dataset can be interrogated and analysed efficiently and dynamically, ready to be presented in branded visuals on an easy-to-read dashboard.

You might even use verbatim responses in the survey to try to explain the findings. But it is actually possible to gain some real qualitative insight in an investigative and responsive way both within time and in budget. Your agency may be wedded to the methods that they know. They are slow and don’t uncover the feedback the business is now demanding in time so they simply state that it’s not possible. But with today’s integrated solutions there is actually a wealth of ways to run both together in harmony.

Download our whitepaper on the top 5 market research trends of 2016. Or, watch a short 2 minute demonstration to see our range of 16 research tools in action.

Maria Twigge

Written by Maria Twigge

Maria is an active member of the UK market research industry, regularly presenting new and engaging topics at industry events. With over 9 experience guiding the FlexMR’s research services, Maria builds strong long-term partnerships with clients, providing insight to effectively translate client needs into action. You can follow Maria on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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Topics: Business Strategy