The dirtiest word in DIY research had top billing during the first day of the Marketing Research Association’s annual conference in San Diego. Curiosity was building around SurveyMonkey CEO David Goldberg’s keynote speech and the room let out an audible sigh and chuckled with relief when Goldberg came on the stage with humility and good humor. (His only request was that all rotten tomatoes be directed toward his head, in the interest of preserving his sport coat.)
DIY research has made a splash in the industry and with mixed feelings. On the one hand, software platforms like SurveyMonkey make “research” easier, faster and more affordable (you can’t beat free!). On the other hand, they take research out of the hands of professionals and potentially threaten research’s integrity, not to mention the quality of the data. But Goldberg wants everyone to know that it isn’t our toes SurveyMonkey is trying to step on. Its real competition? Pen and paper – and the occasional e-mail. Parent feedback surveys from schools and please-select-which-entree-you-would-prefer-at-our-wedding-reception surveys are hardly considered research and have no impact on business decisions. Those survey creators were never going to hire marketing researchers to begin with!
The main difference between SurveyMonkey’s mission and the goals of the research industry is that while SurveyMonkey has the data (a whopping four billion questions asked via its platform each year), marketing research will always have the people. And data, without the people to tell us what it means, isn’t worth a whole lot.
SurveyMonkey does have some pro tips and templates for novice researchers but they are suggestions at best. SurveyMonkey makes no promises. “If they want to do things wrong, we’re going to let them,” says Goldberg.
That’s a slightly different mantra than that of the researchers in the audience!
Goldberg believes that research expertise will only make SurveyMonkey’s tools more powerful and useful. “What we can do together is better than what we can do on our own,” he says.
So DIY doesn’t need to be a four-letter-word for the research industry. Whether you think of it as keeping your enemies close or as welcoming a potential game-changer into the industry, researchers can rest easy knowing that SurveyMonkey has no active interest in dismantling the industry as it stands and only wants to improve research as a whole. Since Goldberg has reassured us that SurveyMonkey isn’t a threat to researchers’ livelihood, perhaps we’ll be more willing to embrace the technology and improve our own processes. After all, we can’t let a few bad DIY surveys by amateurs ruin the whole bunch . . . can we?