Column: The paradox of paying for it


Commentary by Sasha Fainberg

Analyst, SMARI Research

When you pay for a professional to do work, it’s good to hear what you are seeking. They understand your needs, facilitate a good back-and-forth, all while keeping a genial attitude. You hope that none of it is a farce because you are soliciting their services…

Of course, I’m talking about your market research.

The real question is, how good do you feel about the quality of the information collected from research studies you have received, as it takes place in the context of a client-vendor relationship? Is it bound to be as clearly flawed as the smoking studies funded by the tobacco industry during the 1950s and 60s? Or, is the data and derived analysis sound and insightful?

Let’s take a look at some perceived credible sources: in the age of digital publishing, our personal news environments to be more skewed than they’ve ever been. No one sees the same Google or Facebook, and the content is curated to your tendencies, as well as in ways that optimize advertising dollars. Information may bump up to the top of popular platforms based on their style, not their substance. Academic or publicly funded research seems like an unbiased environment – but are there not strings attached to grants, connections, tenure and careers contingent upon publishing novel results?

The simple truth is that bias, and the influence of money in research, can never be eliminated. The solution: acknowledge it, then take it by the reigns and mitigate its influence upon findings.

In the world of market research, part of our job description is to be on high alert for what may skew results, whether it is an oversampling of a demographic, data collection in a way that self-selects, or merging descriptive with inferential data.

When commissioning research, companies are able to have a participatory stake in the process. They become architects of research, but the guidance of a third party keeps it objective – following established best practices and standards, asking questions that aren’t obvious from the client side. In this way, a market research project does form around the needs of a business, but the value of a third party is their objectivity in handling the information revealed.

Transparency comes to those who seek it. By understanding the need for research itself in its product development, marketing impact, or customer retention functions, the company has already acknowledged a desire to gather information. We would be out of business, frankly, if it weren’t a balanced and objective view. In the best cases, everyone at the table is ready to hear the highs and the lows in equal measure, but in any case, there is never too far to hide from the data.

In the end, paying for research means that everyone starts off on the same page: this is as much a transaction as it is a truly invested fact-finding mission for all parties involved. From there, the data tells the story.