Let's Take A Closer Look

Explaining complicated subject matter simply since 1986

When someone asks “How long is a piece of string?” or “How big is a house?” you know the only right answer is “It depends.”

“How much does research cost? We cannot say how much research costs any more than we can say how much a car costs until we’ve asked and answered lots of important questions. Do we want a new car or a used car? Two, three, four, or five doors? Will our car be the bare-bones version or the one with all the bells and whistles?  

A good place to start is by asking ourselves how we want to use this car

Tiny cars are okay for running errands in the neighborhood, convertibles are popular choices of tourists all over Florida, and stretch limos are the hands-down favorites of promgoers everywhere. But if we are going to use our car to tow a heavy trailer, we need a vehicle built for that purpose, perhaps not even a car at all. How much space do we need? Will we be carrying people, things, or both? How about performance, reliability, economy, comfort, and more? Our best choice depends on so many things. If we don’t give it much thought, we’ll be like Chief Brody, in shock, muttering to Captain Quint, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

Most people do not know the corresponding sorts of questions they should be asking when they buy research from contractors. Do you?

This is where most research buyers get stuck. Here are two places you can learn enough to ask the right questions and evaluate the responses you get.

How Did Businesses Waste $2 Billion on Focus Groups?

How Did Businesses Waste $3 Billion on Surveys?


Let’s try thinking about a kitchen remodeling

Broadly speaking,

  • Do you want the materials, craftsmanship, performance, and reliability of multipurpose range/stovetop/ovens made by folks like Wolf, Miele, and Thor?
  • Or are you okay with GE, Whirlpool, or LG? 
  • What levels of performance and quality are you establishing for your refrigerator, freezer, microwave, blender, and toaster?
  • Will you get a dishwasher or wash everything by hand?
  • Will you get a trash compactor or jump up and down until the garbage bag bursts?
  • Do you want marble or tile or Formica or butcher block countertops?
  • Do you want incandescent, LED, or fluorescent lighting?
  • Recessed, track, or pendant?
  • Do you realize if your budget is absurdly low, research contractors will sell you a naked bulb hanging from the ceiling?

On and on we go until we’ve broadly determined all the things we must take into consideration when we’re paying for a new kitchen. Geez, do good cabinets really cost that much?

Here’s the problem

When you buy research, you don’t know anywhere near as much about it as you do about buying a car or remodeling a kitchen, what it involves, or how your decisions will affect your results. Your lack of detailed knowledge leaves you vulnerable to shysters and opportunists (the research contractor equivalent of ambulance chasers and bottom feeders) unless you learn how to protect yourself.

Would it surprise you to learn the highest-paid people at research contractors are commissioned salespeople, not the people who do the actual research?

I advise research buyers to never specify how much they want to spend on their research, no matter how much contractors pester them. When you give research contractors a budget, they will spend it for you, whether it is too much or too little. And what do you know about how much research costs?

When it comes to having trust and confidence in the research contractors are selling you, you need to look no further than the houses built by each of the Three Little Pigs

  • A third of all studies conducted by research contractors are made of Straw, the cheapest, fastest, and easiest to build version. All the information you paid for is bad, so Straws research is worse than none at all.
  • Another third is made of SticksBuyers of Sticks research get as much bad information as good. Do you know when you can’t trust all of it, you can’t trust any of it?
  • Only one study in three is made of BricksThe materials are strong and the construction processes are rigorous. Bricks research does the right things for the right reasons.

Back when Sears was a force in big store retail and catalog sales, they described their product offerings as Good, Better, and Best

Customers were able to choose the levels of quality and performance that met their needs and adhered to their standards for materials and craftsmanship. I advise clients to identify their information needs and ask research contractors to provide Good, Better, and Best versions in their proposals and estimate what each plan costs. This puts the responsibility for recommending methods, samples, scales, statistics, and all the rest where it belongs. Because research is always a series of compromises, clients who fully understand the tradeoffs they are making between scope, scale, and expense get more value for their money than those who remain at the mercy of predators and charlatans.

Note to the top brass

Two out of three research buyers are wasting their organization’s money on Straws and Sticks studies that can’t pass a simple Huff and Puff Test.


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