Client Point of View--With Dan Womack

September 28, 2007

What is your most memorable research project you have ever worked on?

For me, there is one project I'll never forget and the reason has nothing to do with the research I was conducting. On the evening of September 10, 2001, I flew to Austin, TX and prepared to moderate focus groups early the next morning. That day, a few of the last respondents to arrive for the first group were talking about hearing vague reports of a plane crashing into a building in NY City. That was all any of us knew until after the group was finished.

My second group of the day was mid-morning. The show rate was surprisingly good, but the research wasn't. We spent very little time discussing the products I came to study. Instead, we used the time to discuss something we all knew was far more important.

I spent much of the next two days waiting, worrying and talking with the two flight crews that were also stranded in the same hotel. I was fortunate to have a rental car and, on the third day, I decided to drive the 1500 miles back to Virginia. I've never loved business travel, but I have never been happier to return safely from a trip and hug my wife and kids.

How would you categorize the state of online research?

I would say online research is a bit like a young toddler. Growing quickly, showing tons of potential but certainly stumbling and breaking a few things as it starts to mature. I won't go on with this metaphor, but I think we are just starting to tap the potential of online methodologies. There is still much to learn, but much to look forward to as well.

Is Ethnography playing a bigger role in your research plans? If so, how?

Yes. I'm a fan of anything that can provide a richer, deeper understanding of customers, and I find some of the ethnographic-like approaches very promising. Regardless of the product or service category, it continues to be more and more difficult to differentiate based on traditional things such as features or price. The kinds of insight you can get from ethnographic work may provide an edge you wouldn't get with any other kind of work. I expect to continue exploring ethnographic approaches and using them where they make sense.

What do you think is the greatest need in the market research industry?

My greatest concern relates to respondents. How do we reach them and keep them? I think there is a great need for innovation in the ways we interact with respondents. Too much of what we do seems irrelevant to customers, and we deliver this seemingly irrelevant material using some of the most boring tools imaginable. And I'm not just pointing fingers at others here---I pull from the same basic tool box as everyone else.

End users or client-side researchers like me can't dismiss this as just a supplier issue. Yes, we should expect our research providers to be working on the problem, but we have to take more responsibility for this and other quality issues and work with research providers to find solutions.

What type of research are you most frustrated with regarding it's ROI?

I work hard to match needs and methodologies and honestly don't have a lot of frustration around projects not doing what they are supposed to do. Having said that, I do find that very large, complex and--therefore--expensive studies often fail to deliver as expected. I think this is true for a variety of reasons.

Studies often get very large and complex because objectives are unclear or someone is trying to "save" by squeezing everything into one project. Long, complex questionnaires abuse respondents and greatly diminish quality. This leads to internal questioning of the data and, accordingly, no action. This list of reasons could go on, but the conclusion would be the same--we need to simplify wherever possible.

How would you characterize the quality of the deliverables in 2007 vs. previous years?

Unfortunately, I've seen a decline in quality over the past 4-5 years. I think some of this can be attributed to a variety of well-known respondent issues, but many of the problems I've seen are talent related. I've seen questionnaires that could have originated from an elementary school class project, and data tables that were just flat wrong. I've had to redo reports and correct very basic kinds of things--mistakes that experienced, thoughtful researchers wouldn't make (unless they were overwhelmed, which is quite possible and a potential topic for next time).

To be fair, I've seen some real bright spots in the past few years too. I've worked with a few research providers, mostly smaller to mid-sized companies, that really seem to value quality and work hard to attract and retain quality talent. There is a lot of good work being conducted, but it's harder to find than it should be.

From your standpoint what is the hottest trend in market research?

In general, I would say the hot trend is still the continued move to a variety of online methodologies. Ironically, I think some of the issues (perceived or real) associated with this move to online tools have also sparked another trend. While I don't have data to back it up, conversations with some of my colleagues leads me to believe more than a few are moving back to telephone or even mail-based work.

What research conferences do you think you will you be attending in 2008?

Is it time to talk about 2008 already? My hope is to attend the MRA Annual and Fall Conferences along with the AMA Marketing Research Conference----though I couldn't even guess when or where any of these are scheduled for '08.

<< Back