Phil Hearn: Blogger, Writer & Founder of MRDC Software Ltd.

Why online dashboards should be the norm in market research

Data reporting in market research is starting to change. We are emerging from a 20-year or so period where PowerPoint presentations have dominated into an era where online data visualisation can become the norm.

The barriers need to come down

Dapresy, Tableau and MarketSight, as well as some others, have been in the online dashboard market for a few years, but the use of dashboards in market research has not become the norm for the ‘average’ market research project. Why? Firstly, the cost is prohibitive and beyond the budget of anything but large surveys such as a sizeable tracking study. Secondly, delivery times and staff time have been excessive.

Change has been happening – but it’s too slow for me

This article will argue that changes are happening and that, although the market research landscape looks poor compared to other industries when it comes to data visualisation, improvements are arriving. Just read through to the end!

The challenges for the market research industry

Market research is increasingly being billed as ‘business intelligence’ and providing ‘insights’. To me, market research hasn’t changed. It is the business of collecting accurate data and delivering the aggregated results from that data in the most useful way. There is an increasing number of data visualisation tools, but do they serve that market research industry well? I would argue that they generally don’t.

Market research should have a higher business profile

Further, market research has suffered for many years because it often does not get valued at a high level in companies. A key reason for this is that it is often difficult or expensive to deliver market research data alongside other business data. In 2020, most businesses have their key data at their fingerprints. If a market research report is sitting on someone’s computer in a PowerPoint file or as a report on a shelf, it will not get the recognition and the value it deserves. Market research has an opportunity to elevate itself. Change is happening.

Market research dashboards have special needs

What exacerbates the problem is that market research dashboards have some special needs that other industries don’t have. Here are some examples:

  • Market research data is often weighted or is hierarchical in structure

  • There is often a need to group data – such as ‘top 2 box’ responses or any mention of sub-brands

  • Multiple response questions are common

  • There needs to be some care to avoid displaying data with low bases

  • Data often comes from specialist market research systems rather than common databases

The past, present and future in a nutshell

In the past, research companies have presented market research surveys as fixed PowerPoint presentations. PowerPoint has been a good standard as it has decent, if occasionally annoying, tools for presenting data as tables, charts and, to a lesser extent, as infographics. The recent past and present have allowed market researchers to present data as simple or complex online dashboards or by using online tools such as Google Slides. The future has to be online dashboards that stakeholders can interrogate easily and quickly as well as to the depth they need in their role. Is this a dream or ever going to be possible?

Online dashboards are not new but…

Online dashboards have been around for a long while. Big businesses have had their data available online for many years. Information, data representations and data interrogation are not new. Banks, travel, retail, FMCG companies and others have had data that is valuable to their staff and, sometimes, customers available as online dashboards.

But market research is different….

The problem with market research is that the data that you want to feed into a dashboard changes too much. A bank, for example, will tend to have the same data available to data users for years. There may be a new piece of data that needs to be added from time to time, but, generally, the data feeding the dashboard is structurally the same – it is more about data updates than new dashboards or systems.

The viability of online dashboards

Online dashboards have been made available to buyers of some market research studies, but they are the minority rather than the desired majority. Why? It’s about almost entirely about viability. The cost of preparing an online dashboard for a market research study has been too high unless the project is a) big b) a tracking study c) the buyer has sufficient budget. Market research is often squeezed on budget, making niceties such as an online dashboard too much of a luxury.

Putting market research data into online dashboards

Market research is not the same as most other business data. A survey usually contains relatively small amounts of data, the contents of which are different for every survey. What’s more, the data is a different ‘shape’ to almost all other business data. Market research data tends to be a relatively small number of records (respondents) with many fields of data or data points. Almost all other business data is a lot of records with a small number of fields. Think of what information a bank holds about you as a customer. It is likely to be a relatively small number of fields compared to a 20-minute market research survey which typically contains hundreds of fields.

What’s different about market research data?

So, let’s get to the nitty-gritty. There are several tools about which allow you to turn data into online dashboards – what are the inherent problems with most of the current contenders to date? The two major problems are the cost of the software products themselves and the time it takes to deliver. The time it takes means high staff costs and, just as importantly, the dashboard cannot be ready immediately after fieldwork. Let’s look at these two key areas in turn.

The cost of most online dashboard systems

As in most industries, there are some cheap or even free tools which will present an online chart on a survey, but this misses the point. A good online reporting tool must be flexible enough to provide the required presentation of figures, tables, charts and infographics. Further, the tool must be able to adapt to different users as different dashboard users may want different parts of the data or a different depth to the information available. This level of software often starts to cost $10,000+ or even much more. This figure is way outside the budget of almost all market research agencies.

The time it takes to deliver

Most good dashboards that represent survey data have either been custom built by programmers, who have used sophisticated software that needs an expert to drive them. Custom dashboards can cost over $10,000 and sometimes much more – unquestionably unviable for a US$15,000 research project. Dashboards created by software attract high staff costs as well as needing a long delivery time, reducing the value to the potential users of the dashboard. In other words, any thoughts of providing an online dashboard are just not practical – and so, research companies provide a set of PowerPoint charts, which have, to say the least, far less use and impact.

What does market research need?

In simple terms, the tool that produces the online dashboard must be easy to use and quick to deliver, preferably faster than PowerPoint – and, of course, at a competitive cost. If that was achievable, a management summary, key findings and an online dashboard could replace boring, unimpactful PowerPoint presentations. This change must be an improvement. It is well-known that our brains absorb far more visual information than text.

So, what does this all mean?

What does market research need? In simple terms, it needs:

  • Software that makes providing dashboards easy
  • Software that is affordable
  • Software that can merge survey data with other key business data
  • Software that works well for all market research projects – not, just the biggest projects
  • Software that can represent data in meaningful ways

Does MRDC Software have an answer?

All will be revealed soon! Keep an eye on our social media pages on Monday 9th March as something very exciting will be launching.