Storypoints of Interest
Apr 01

Do-It-Yourself Research

So you’re a corporate researcher and you’ve decided to write, program and analyze your surveys in-house. In the last few years, you’ve watched the technology for conducting your own surveys grow in number and functionality. For less than the cost of a custom, primary research study, you can sign up for a year of SurveyMonkey or Qualtrics and have money left over to buy sample. You might even feel like you can get your results faster. It’s almost a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t you do it yourself?

If you’ve traditionally relied on custom, quantitative research companies for your survey work, be aware that doing it yourself could be a bit like deciding to remodel your bathroom by yourself. If you’re not a carpenter or plumber, the project will probably take longer than you estimated, you may have to make decisions on things on which you are not an expert, and you might not have all the tools you’ll need.

Before taking the leap to become your own research supplier, here are some things to consider.

#1 – Write your survey for your respondent audience.

Sure there are plenty of articles that tell you how to write simple, easy-to-understand questions and to use appropriate response scales, etc. in surveys that aren’t too long. A lot of care goes into writing an interesting and engaging survey for your respondents that also accurately reflects the world in which they live. When you write your survey, you’ll have to put on your respondent’s hat and really think about how they will want to answer your questions.

This goes beyond serving as the voice of the customer/consumer for your team. You will need to be sure the respondent really understands the questions you ask and the response alternatives you provide. The quality of the data you collect also depends on your ability to understand what the respondents mean when they answer your questions. It’s worth the time to check your assumptions and to even pretest your survey with someone external to your team or company.

#2 – Plan for the analysis of the data you collect.

Okay, you’ve thought about your survey topic from the respondents’ point of view, but now you also have to think about the decisions your team will try to make from the data you collect. The good news is that you’re close to your brand’s objectives; you have the end in mind. It also makes sense to think about the middle—the analytical steps you will need to complete to get to your desired end.

You know how often initial findings from a survey lead to new questions. How will you dig in and find those answers? What kind of analysis can you do within your survey tool? The default output of online survey tools is to report frequencies of responses at an aggregate level. Do you have another piece of software that will let you dig more deeply into your data?

If you don’t think through your analysis before you field the survey, then the reporting phase of your project could take a lot longer than expected, especially if you don’t have all the analytical tools you’ll need.

#3 – Check your work before you launch the survey.

This is the equivalent of measuring twice, cutting once. Checking the survey program to make sure all the branching logic works correctly might not be a small job. Prepare to spend some time here.

You’ll also want to check that the data are being recorded correctly. Most online survey tools are very good at this, but if you are going to work with the raw data and not just aggregated summaries, you’ll want to make sure that what one respondent answers is exactly what gets recorded in the data.

#4 – Manage the field.

You’ll want to carefully choose your sample source. Are you buying sample from another company? What is their method for ensuring the quality of the potential respondents? You might already have a list of customers you want to survey. You’ll need to know a bit about them in case one particular group doesn’t respond to your survey. For instance, the customers who have spent the least with you may not be very engaged with your brand, may be less interested in taking your survey, and therefore, be under-represented in your final sample.

How long will you leave your survey open? Once you’ve closed your survey, you’ll want to make sure to verify that your respondents match the characteristics of the population you surveyed. Will you need to weight your respondents? How will you check that respondents didn’t speed through your survey, not really answering your questions? After all, you don’t want to be surprised at the end of your “remodel” and find out that you didn’t connect the plumbing correctly behind your brand new drywall.

#5 – Get another pair of eyes.

You care deeply about your brand’s business results. You want to save the company money. You want to be more responsive. You want to execute a piece of research that worth much more than the value of your time. It pays to ask team members close to your business, as well as trusted advisors who are outside your business, to check what you are doing. Just like a building inspector, there are many marketing research and insights consultants who can check your questionnaire, check your program, probe your sampling plan, and probe your analysis plan. They can even help you fully report and share the data you do collect.

Bringing your research in house may be a smart move. Just remember, do-it-yourself doesn’t have to mean going it alone.


In my next post, we’ll cover maximizing the value you get from the data you collect in your DIY surveys.

Cara Kelly