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Building a Research Technology Stack for Better Insights

Emily James

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Technology stacks are more frequently discussed in the marketing and software development industries. As the name suggests, these are personalised ecosystems of technology created to work in conjunction with each other as and when they’re needed, sat ready and waiting for teams to use on a daily basis. With the amount of software out there for insight professionals to take advantage of in all industries, building a technology stack that works for any occasion has never been more feasible.

What isn’t talked about quite as much, is a market research technology stack. What technologies should insight professionals stack in order to cater to both daily workloads and tackle unique research challenges? How do we figure out which technologies to use?

First Steps to Stacking Technology

With the amount of technology available to sift through, it can be hard to know where to start looking for the right service for your market research. We need to get the best value for our money, choose the right pieces of tech to service our daily work at every stage of insight generation, analysis, and activation. There will be a myriad of technological services needed to facilitate each step, which ones do we need to pick? The ones we need to use every day, both for the big projects and the background tasks.

With the amount of technology available to sift through it can be hard to know where to start looking for the right fit in your stack - which ones should we pick?

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A carefully crafted market research technology stack allows us all to work effectively at every stage of insight generation, analysis and activation.

One good way to start is to visualise the research stages and that tasks we do in each of those stages:

  1. Request - What channels do you have to either request research yourself or have others request research from you?
  2. Recruitment – What sample will you need access to, and how are you going to gain access to them? Will you use social media or a sample provider or a recruitment service?
  3. Data Collection – What methodologies do you need access to in order to complete your research?
  4. Management – This can be both stakeholder management or participant management software/services.
  5. Data Analysis – What tools do you need to analyse the data you gather? Is it just Microsoft Excel or do you need something with a bit more automation?
  6. Reporting – How will you create your reports? Do you use Microsoft PowerPoint or would you like to aim for something more creative?
  7. Activation – How are you going to distribute these insights so that they’re easily accessible to all stakeholders at the time of decision-making? What software do you need to better facilitate insight activation?

Note down every piece of software you would ideally use in order to complete all of the tasks and research to a high standard, and do some research to see what other tools are available to see if they’re any better. Every technology you choose to put in your ecosystem needs to cover every background task such as email and incentive distribution, to larger research projects like surface quantitative research and deep-dive ethnography studies.

Most of the technologies you will encounter will be accessible in the form of annual licenses; from a secure email or other communications systems to liaise with stakeholders and colleagues, to the research platform or software that will host all your research projects, each piece of software should fit together well enough to be used in conjunction with any of the others at a moment’s notice.

Stacking Technology in Real Life

There are a few basic considerations to factor in when researching your options:

  • Budget – the price of the annual licenses you’re considering vs what money you have to work with each year.
  • Is this technology compatible with the ones you already have?
  • How much value would this technology add to my work and stack?

But there is a lot to it than that. We can discuss the theory of creating a research technology stack until we’re blue in the face, however until you are in the situation where you need to build a stack in real life then it would help a lot to have access to some real-life experience-based guidance. Susan White Frazier is a Senior Research Manager at The Teaching Company, and has recently had the experience of building a research technology stack from scratch.

The question Susan kept in mind throughout building her stack was: “does a technology tool allow room for creativity and engaging ways of approaching consumers, plus a robust back-end?

I want to be able to innovate and develop my research instruments over time and not be hindered by a tool that won’t let me do what I envision. I also want options for analysis. Some people want a dashboard or simple graphic display of high-level data. For myself, to help me fully understand a data set or qualitative responses, I need to be able to slice and dice, filter, tag, etc., so that once I’ve looked at results in different ways, I have a solid grasp of what I’m really seeing.”

However, there are potential mistakes that we need to look out for. Frazier states that:

“What I find most important in recent years is a really robust platform for research instrument creation, deployment, and analysis. Too many so-called solutions I’ve looked at have involved pulling pieces from various tools, which creates room for error. When I find a tool that allows for complex survey design, targeted deployments by various means, innovative qual, and consumer engagement all in one place, that’s the unicorn that I’m always looking for.”

So, what does Frazier recommend to make sure you’re getting the best value for money?

  1. Ask a lot of questions – even when you get answers, ask follow up questions to get everything you need. Ask other people who will depend on you to pull results out of it what they hope you’ll be able to do.
  2. Request a full demo of the tools and include anyone who will be using it. Ask questions!
  3. Check references for each tool and company you are considering.
  4. Negotiate for the best pricing and be sure to compare apples to apples when comparison shopping, including during a cost negotiation. Be transparent, to a point, if you legitimately don’t have the budget for your tool of choice.

Building the Right Technological Ecosystem

Susan White Frazier is right to place a lot of emphasis on asking questions, as this is the only way to make sure you’re creating the right research technology stack for you. We all need to be able to conduct the right research project in almost a moment’s notice, but with each project having unique research requirements it can be hard to ensure you’re picking the right ones.

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How do insight professionals decide which technologies to stack? Susan White Frazier has recently gone through this process and has some very valuable insights to share.

There are a few basics tools that we tend to think are a given in the generation of valuable insights: survey and online focus group tools, a spreadsheet for in-depth analysis, and a reporting tool to collate all our insights and present them in an appropriate manner. However, there are a few tools that also provide immense value to insight generation that might not immediately be apparent; with the rise in smartphones and a love of video, video capture and analysis software are great additions to any research technology stack; as well as translation software and services so any international research can be conducted at a moment's notice with accuracy. Incentive generation and distribution services are also great additions that aid research projects so we can entice our participants to say more, adding important depth to the insights generated.

With the amount of software and services available to choose from, it’s easy to guarantee that, whatever we choose, we are bound to create a unique stack of research technology to fit our every need.

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