DIY is a favorite scapegoat of the market research industry. Professional researchers have blamed DIY research for a multitude of problems; most commonly, for subjecting survey participants to onerous surveys, ultimately resulting in lower response rates.

While I could easily write 1,000 words on why this is bunk, I’ll make just one point for the sake of brevity: I’ve seen more onerous, convoluted, lengthy questionnaires from “professionals” than from DIYers. I’ve never seen a DIYer subject participants to a 20-row grid, or 15 screens of product-feature trade-offs. There are lots of big issues behind plummeting response rates—but DIY isn’t one of them.

First: Breathe Slowly
The bigger issue with DIY is that most researchers are not treating the surge as a research opportunity. I see too many emotional rants about DIY and not nearly enough analysis. I’ve been watching the trend very closely, and my conclusion is that DIY is actually good for the market research industry. That’s right: good.

Understanding why people choose to do their own projects tells us where new opportunities may exist. For example, some people are doing research on their own because they want it done super-fast. They just don’t have time to explain to someone else what they want, and then get drawn into days spent on questionnaire iterations. They want data. They want it now. It’s time to get over our tired dogma that a client cannot have custom research that is fast, inexpensive and good. Surely there is a way to turn the need for speed into a business opportunity.

Look at the DIY research drivers objectively; each one points to a new possibility.

DIY tells us that market research is infiltrating many job functions, in many organizations, of all sizes. Customer insight is now so important that everyone is making it part of their jobs! Seth Godin is often quoted as saying, “marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.” DIY research activity tells us, “market research is too important to be controlled only by a market research department.” A lot of DIY is being done by people who are not in a research department. The more people who conduct research, the more opportunity there is for market research software companies, sample companies and innovative agencies.

Paying attention to how clients frame their DIY research projects tells market research agencies how they should be talking to a new, broader field of prospects. People who conduct DIY research don’t always think of it as “market research.” They often think about it as the topic in question. They think about “client feedback,” not “customer loyalty research.” They think about “figuring out where to advertise to reach the best customers,” not necessarily about “market segmentation.” We always tell clients to listen to their clients’ language; we should be doing the same.

DIY research is like a free sample. In some cases, DIY is being done by people who are new to market research. They try it, they like it, and some will want more. They learn the benefit of having fresh data, or insights that are not widely known by competitors. In my experience, many people for whom DIY is their first research experiences are learning fast that it isn’t as easy as they expected. And now they are looking for professionals to help with their next projects—either for discrete tasks or total outsourcing. Ultimately, DIY research can be a lead generation vehicle for market research agencies.

Market research departments are evolving. In organizations with market research departments doing increasing amounts of research in-house, those groups are changing. Some are hiring, some have new job descriptions. These folks will have increasing needs for market research information and peer communities—which could mean new client-side members for market research professional organizations and increased demand for research-related information services. Imagine market research peer communities with equal representation of client-side and supplier-side members—it would be fantastic for all of us.

Looking at DIY Through Your Research Glasses
The market research industry has gone though tectonic shifts before. When online surveys first started to take off, a lot of CATI-centric researchers balked. When research panels first started to pop up, many of us were downright repulsed. And, of course, both online research and panels are now a huge part of the industry. It’s time for some objective assessment of why DIY is booming and what it really means. Don’t assume the worst.

Editor's Note: This article originally ran in the April 2010 issue of MRA's Alert! Magazine.


Thanks for all of the great twitter response to this! I will also add a blog post follow up at

- Kathryn Korostoff 04/07/2010

Great post. While there are certainly many problems associated with DIY research, it's time to start offering solutions and stop the incessant bleating. There are still some hurdles to overcome in terms of the functionality of tools and the limitations those shortcomings impose on the research that can be executed, but this is definitely an opportunity.

I also concur with your observation regarding the abuse of grids and other common miscues not being the sole domain of "amateurs".

A very similar discussion on DIY was posted here this morning:

- Brandon Watts 04/07/2010

Excellent post and pleasing to see the DIY debate continue momentum. This is one of the most educated and sensible articles I have seen on this topic and I think raises some critical points about some of the fundamental mistakes critics make about the short-falls of DIY solutions in research and the perceived impact on traditional methods and data integrity. As you say, the sooner the industry embraces this evolution and starts to understand how and if DIY solutions can fit into the existing researchers tool-kit, the better for clients and business all round. Personally, I see DIY solution empowering more people to do market research, enabling those who haven't until now been able to necessarily access or afford it, particularly SMEs and not for profit organisations.

- Richard Thornton 04/18/2010