Market research needs time, commitment and corporate ethics of agency and client.

by Kathrin Franke

A while ago I gave a lecture on behalf of a client to train his employees on the topic "What innovative potential does market research have and what needs to be considered?” I like the idea of bringing more transparency into the individual processes of market research on the customer side, in order to be able to link project goals, project workflows and budgets in a meaningful way.

After the article in about the manipulation of market research results from a number of companies in Germany, I feel the need to comment on the content.

Good market research needs interlinked processes in every single project phase; from the planning and development, right through to presentation of results. At the outset, planning of the methodology and the selection of the sample, as well as questionnaire design and pre-tests ensure reliable results which answer the right questions. Continual review during the research phase itself is also vital. For us this means extensive team briefings and meetings for detailed discussion of intermediate results, along with checking interviews for logic and consistency. Interim data analysis looking at initial results and identify outliers allows the sample to be steered differently than initially planned, and to implement additional questions if needed.

Both agency and client have tasks and responsibilities during the individual stages of the project. This requires rigorous and transparent data management processes and sufficient project time to deal with results from these processes, from both - agency and clients. Martin Thöring mentions in one of the interviews that "he dreams of a fraud-proof survey method”. I do not believe in a "fraud-proof survey method". And why only mean-spirited fraud? After all, market research itself carries a great deal of risk of falsification of the survey results due to simple misunderstandings, e. g. with regard to the questioning itself, incorrect or insufficient answer options, the selection of an unsuitable interviewee etc. I therefore strongly support the use of a variety of linked quality assurance methods and corporate ethics to counteract this.

My experience so far leads me to believe that the majority of all interviewers - whether employed or freelance - welcome work that delivers valuable results, an environment that encourages critical thinking, and of course allows for a decent income. It is the task of the companies to create this working environment and make their case both internally and in respect of customers. Is a 20-minute telephone interview with a doctor in Germany at a total price of € 50 realistic? I would say no, no matter where the agency or interviewer is located, in Germany or elsewhere.

Although I am keen to defend our industry, for I truly believe in the benefits of good market research, one positive of this fraud debate is to shine a light on some less than ideal practices. And I for one welcome the demand for higher accountability and better standards.

High quality market research requires sufficient time for the project and has its price. How often do we receive inquiries from customers with ambitious ideas about the duration of the project? Very often. However, we do make a proposal and point out risk factors.  And how often do we allow lower data quality to cut budgets or increase profits? Never. Our business ethics prohibits this. We cannot allow this to happen if we want our industry to be what it is supposed to be: Support for real innovations that benefit all of us. We are not just interviewers, agencies or customers; we are all consumers or patients, target groups for which these innovations are to be developed. I therefore recommend that all parties reconsider what is important. We encourage our customers to demand transparency when prices are high, but also to question them when they appear too low.


(This article was published in German in: