Many project managers only need four things from early-stage research: they need it fast; they need it concise; they need it accurate; and they don't have a budget.
But when your boss says, "I want to know what people think about this topic and I need five slides on it for my meeting tomorrow," you still have to get it done. Like, now.
If you have a basic understanding of creating online surveys and can work within a powerful yet intuitive web interface, then relax. Armed with your own customer contacts, you can crank out a great little survey and have answers back in hours, in a format that can be easily dropped into a presentation. Boom. You're a hero.
This is where the newest, most advanced self-service market research tools come in. Unlike older sites and applications that have been around for years, the latest iterations combine free, fast, and easy options with seamless integration to real data scientists, if and when you need it. This enables a new world of speed, accuracy, and quality.
What's the Difference?
Newer self-service market research tools and older DIY options differ in this way: with DIY you're basically on your own. It's pretty common to create unreliable surveys in older tools. Many nightmare projects start that way. For short surveys demanding fast turnarounds and minimal errors, the newest tools are free, faster, and more perceptive.
Plus, high-level help is integrated should your short survey need to get more complex.
Newer self-service market research options provide access to qualified support that can help to weed out errors in survey design commonly made by non-professional researchers. Leading and biased questions are prevented, such as: "Now that we've told you about the features and great value of this product, how likely would you be to purchase it?" You'll get answers to that all right, but the data will be slanted - as will subsequent decisions made using that data.
Same goes for double-barreled questions such as, "Would you agree that the mayor is fiscally conservative and has a community-minded spirit?" There are two different parts of the question, so which part is your customer responding to? All kinds of problems like this can creep into DIY questionnaires. By sending out an incompetent survey you give yourself a black eye. The newest self-service tools steer you clear of this by giving you the expert support you need when you need it.
The Self-Service (DIY) Survey Checklist
With any launch, you need a checklist. Here's a simple 4-point checklist that helps you decide when a free self-service research tool is the right fit (and when it's not):
Is the survey 15 questions or less? Go past this and you risk overwhelming quick-survey respondents. This kind of survey should not take longer than 8-10 minutes to complete. The shorter the better.
Are your questions clear and straightforward? Keep it simple. We're talking yes/no, or pick one of these five, rate your opinion about this, or write a sentence about how you feel. Fast and easy.
Stay away from complex logic. When you hire a research agency, you can set all kinds of screening criteria (e.g., age, income, job, product preferences, etc.). But unless you have advanced analytical and survey design skills, avoid complex screening criteria in basic self-service surveys. It's all about minimalism.
Don't assume you can just stick complex analysis on the back end. You just want some answers for proof of concept, or to quickly take a segment's temperature. Trying to apply multivariate statistical techniques to this kind of basic data can be a bear to manage (unless you add expert consulting to help plan and execute).
The Need for Speed
Clearly, speed and accuracy are the big differentiators between older DIY websites and the latest self-service marketing research tools. It's speed-to-decision where self-service research is really proving to be a game-changer.
Of course, more experienced research departments need more advanced tools. They understand complex skip patterns, customized piping logic, sample balancing, and beyond. And here's the new paradigm: the current self-service research tools are accessible to inexperienced research users, while at the same time providing robust functionality to research pros. It's an elegant combination that creates a lot of efficiency. Did somebody say hero?