Market research software: strengths and weaknesses
Market research is changing as a business, and the software available to process market research data is also changing. Furthermore and unsurprisingly, the clients buying research are changing too. Most of these changes are for the better, in my view, but I will argue that, in some ways, it has made the market research software market a more confusing place. Let’s investigate.
MRDCL: Where we stand
Firstly, as the provider of premium tabulation software, it is significant to note how MRDCL’s approach has changed and continues to change. In the 1990s, MRDCL focused on functionality, ensuring that MRDCL had every feature that users needed to produce any crosstabs. In the 2000s, the focus moved to productivity. This move was in response to the rising cost of labour in much of the world. Further, as computing costs reduced, there was an expectation that staff efficiency should improve. In the 2010s, particularly the latter part, we moved into automation and improving processes, which brings us to the 2020s, where our focus is on data mobility. Mobility means, in my view, making data available how and where clients want it. It’s a big challenge for both us and the market research industry as a whole.
What has changed in market research?
Let’s start with the survey instrument. The ever-increasing percentage of surveys carried out online is evident to everyone. Online surveys mean that the person completing the survey has to understand how to complete the survey without any assistance. Whilst people of all age groups around the world are increasingly more computer-savvy, this restricts two obvious things: a) the complexity/scope of the questionnaire and b) the length of the questionnaire. For an online survey, a respondent is only one click away from leaving your survey if something is unclear, onerous or frustrating. Further, and somewhat belated, in my opinion, the research industry is elevating the importance of delivering data and results conveniently for clients. Dashboards, for example, are starting to become a more significant part of the research process, although there is still a way to go.
What has changed for market research software?
Software for market research has changed substantially in the last ten years. Most software products are online or SaaS (software as a service) platforms. They have improved in appearance and ease of use, with many funded by substantial investments. They have also improved in the breadth of their functionality. Many platforms now collect data and generate analyses, reports and dashboards. The move toward ‘complete solutions’ is interesting and comes with positives and negatives. It is a key topic of this blog article.
Surveys or customer feedback?
One of the complications in the software market is that surveys can range from two or three questions through surveys of fifty or so questions to more complex questionnaires, such as diaries, tracking studies and long ad hoc surveys. There is a chasm between a customer feedback questionnaire of three or four questions and the traditional survey typically carried out by market research agencies. The software market reflects this. Some platforms exist chiefly for customer feedback surveys, whereas others are for traditional research agency surveys. Of course, some products stretch to the centre ground between these extremes. The other dimension is pricing which ranges from free/almost free to extremely high ticket prices.
Closed or open systems?
Software development companies generally have a binary choice; it may be unconscious, I suspect, in some cases. That choice is between whether you expect your customers to do ‘everything’ in the software product or whether you want to give customers the option to use your software in tandem with other products. At MRDCL, we have a strong opinion on this. We believe closed systems are dangerous. Period. If you want to use a software product with another product, that’s fine. Every product has its strengths and weaknesses. Even if the platform you use now serves all your needs well, that may not be true in future. There are a small number of exceptions. For example, where you are offering a packaged service or where moving existing projects to another platform involves minimal risk. However, in principle, I am against closed systems.
“Data is the new oil.”
To the best of my knowledge, Forbes is credited with coining the term ‘data is the new oil’. I won’t argue for or against that statement. However, I believe that data mobility is of premium importance in business. What do I mean by data mobility? My definition is that it is easy to transfer data from one platform or system to another with as little effort and risk of error as possible. Both businesses and consumers expect data to have data at their fingertips, where they want it and how they want it. Market research doesn’t warrant an exemption from this position. Therefore, software should make data mobility a high priority.
Good enough or excellent?
The breadth of many platforms is something that I noted earlier. A packaged solution can work well for customer feedback surveys, where the questionnaire, data, analysis and reporting are often limited and standard. Where there are complications, it is often combining other business data with the survey data; something that the market research industry does not handle well generally. Data from traditional market research has a more complex route and calls for varying levels of complexity at any of these stages – the questionnaire, data, analysis and reporting. As most platforms will have strengths and weaknesses, especially if they cover a spectrum of functionality, the importance of data mobility increases.
MRDCL’s role in data processing
MRDCL is a specialist tool for crosstabs. However, its role is beginning to change in some cases. It is also a powerful tool for generating complex variables and automating data processing. Tasks that are laborious to implement or even impossible in some software products are often easy using MRDCL. I’m thinking of conceptually simple tasks like adding a top and bottom two box to a series of rating statements. Or tasks such as dynamically feeding a make/model or lookup list from Excel into the platform without copying/pasting. Or, perhaps, a large data set of thousands of records, a report needing thousands of tables, banners of hundreds of data points. And, of course, a lot more.
MRDCL: What’s next?
So, where are we taking MRDCL? I have mentioned several times the importance of data mobility. This initiative needs to work in conjunction with our automation features so that MRDCL can be a seamless engine, producing efficiencies, reducing errors and giving increased power to any other processes you need to have. Alongside this, we are developing a new module for MRDCL, which allows you to script PowerPoint reports directly from MRDCL analyses. This module will be available within the next year. We haven’t forgotten our commitment to productivity. We will also be introducing ‘script bubbles’ to MRDCL. This feature will allow you to quickly and easily generate MRDCL scripts from forms of your own design. Script bubbles will be ideal for repetitively needed requirements.
TSAPI: Potential big for MRDCL and the market research industry
TSAPI is a relatively new initiative that we are supporting wholeheartedly; it is an API that will link market research data to other systems. Its cousin, Triple-S, has served the market industry well for over 30 years, linking different market research software platforms together. TSAPI will match Triple-S in this regard and, more importantly, link market research data to the wider business world. I’ll end by stealing with the Forbes idea of data being the new oil. I will say that data mobility can oil the wheels of market research. If you think the wheels of your market research need to be oiled, let us explain how in more detail.