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In uncertain times, with uncertain budgets, why are we so certain new research is the answer?

I just read a great article by Andrew Grenville from Vision Critical. He argues that researchers too often jump into survey-mode to answer a question. It’s their default position, based on their agency training. That is, training at large agencies which profit from organisations commissioning new research.

I’ve been talking for some time about how more can be done with existing research, past data, and forgotten or undiscovered reports. It’s not only more cost-effective, it’s quicker. And as Andrew argues, it gives a depth of understanding seldom possible with a piece of research from a single source.

He interviewed Insight leaders who say:

“[We] rush to the field with a new study, instead of analyzing what we already know…  because we do not have time to go through the historical information” (Eleonora Jonusiene, Warner Bros Home Entertainment)


“It’s often easier and faster to call up the supplier and start a new research study than to try to make sense of the myriad of existing data and insights that you have. It’s a sad fact” (Ihno Froehling, GSK)

All of this begs the question, why aren’t we challenging this broken model?

Surely now, in this culture of uncertainty, it’s the time to re-evaluate our relationship with research. To stop our dependency on what’s new and fresh. To be more resourceful. To make do, to mend, and to act quickly on what we know already.

Let’s take an example. Imagine a finance company wants to understand the appetite of 16 to 18 year olds for investing in the stock market versus holding their money in cash deposit accounts. The obvious route is a survey, probably representative of this age group.

But we actually know the answer already.

We know 16-18 year olds have grown up in turbulent economic times. We know from GfK’s consumer confidence data 16-18s are more concerned about economic uncertainty, recession and unemployment than other age groups. And we know from various other pieces of research they favour easy access to their savings.

So it’s reasonable to assume this group, will prefer cash over stocks & shares.

This takes some time to pull together. But we can answer this question without considerable outlay, and without the need for primary research.

In these uncertain times, many organisations are cutting back on research spend. Just commissioning a new study is no longer going to work. We need to spend more time looking at past research.

And if insight teams don’t have the time to do this themselves, they need to be working with agencies who do.

Photo by James Newcombe on Unsplash

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