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Frequently Asked Questions

Why do I need research?
How can I "sell" research to my management/client?
What does it cost to conduct research?
Should I do focus groups or a survey?
Is an online survey the best method for me?
I need a "quick and dirty" survey-can you help me?

Why do I need research?
Would you drive at night without lights? Most people would find that a very risky proposition. They wouldn't know how far to go before turning; they wouldn't be able to see obstacles or barriers or other drivers; it could be very dangerous. So why do businesses embark on strategic and tactical ventures without knowing what's out there, who's out there, and whether anyone is listening? That's why you need research.

How can I "sell" research to my management/client?
This is a question that has been the subject of day-long conferences. However, the short answer is to ask the question: "What is the size and scope of your investment?" That investment can be in manufacturing a new product, launching a new ad campaign, maintaining customer or employee relations, or changing a corporate name or logo. Each investment has a certain risk attached to it. A small investment may warrant a simple investigation (e.g., a trademark search), while a major investment - say, $1 million or more - should entail something more extensive. Some say that 5% of your investment should be allocated to research, but sometimes it may require as much as 10%. That's because the risk is not necessarily a financial one alone. Sometimes, a major change can cost customer loyalty or good will.

What does it cost to conduct research?
This is one of the most frequently asked questions, and the stock answer is: "What does a custom-made and designed suit cost?" Well, it depends (also known as "the D word"). However, here are some guidelines to give you an idea.

Secondary research

  • Range is $500 to $3,000 or more
  • Variables: scope of inquiry, number of articles uncovered, depth of analysis
  • Example (low): a brief look at what's been written in the past 3 months about a company, brand, or person, with little or no analysis
  • Example (high): a comprehensive look at two or more companies, brands, or persons over the past year, yielding 20 or more articles, with a review and analysis of all articles could be at least $5,000

Consulting services:

  • Hourly fee is $150 plus expenses (i.e., travel, materials), with a minimum of 3 hours
  • Example (low): Strategy session (3 to 6 hours)
  • Example (high): Audit of in-house or prior research (25+ hours)

Focus groups:

  • Range is $6,000 to $9,000 per group plus expenses (travel, video, transcripts, materials)
  • Variables: number of groups (the more groups, the lower the unit cost), kind of respondents (executives and professionals cost more than average consumers), qualifications for being in the groups (the harder it is to find the right respondents, the more it costs), travel expenses
  • Example (low): two groups (12 respondents each) with female heads of household who have dishwashers (about $12,000 plus expenses)
  • Example (high): eight groups (8 respondents each) with high-end investors (about $72,000, including transcripts, video, but not including travel expenses)


  • Range is $5,000 to $100,000 or more
  • Variables: similar to those for focus groups
    • Number of respondents
    • Type of data collection (online, telephone, omnibus, central location, mail)
    • Number of questions
    • Incidence of the target population (how easy or difficult is it to find the respondents you want to talk to)
    • Type of analysis (simple or advanced)
    • Example (low): Omnibus survey (telephone or online) with consumers, five questions, topline analysis
    • Example (high): Survey of 1,000 executives, 20-minute telephone survey, regression analysis and perceptual mapping

Should I do focus groups or a survey?
There are several factors that enter into this decision. While it is not formulaic, there are some guidelines which can help you decide.

  • What do you want to learn from the research?
  • How do you want to use the results?
  • What kind of population do you want to research?
  • Is it a homogeneous population or not?
  • Is it local or regional, national or international?
  • Do you need to show samples, storyboards, or prototypes?
  • How soon do you need results?

Here's a chart that may help you decide.

Characteristic Qualitative Quantitative
Sample size Small:
Focus groups have between 4 and 12 people;
There are usually fewer than 50 IDIs, but you can have more
Should be at least 100 per analytic cell (e.g., males or females, industry segments, frequent users)
Type of sample Usually NOT representative Usually representative, except for central location studies or some list studies (and even they can be representative of the list)
Questionnaire or discussion guide Semi-structured and flexible; can be modified during a session or between sessions Highly structured, usually contains mostly closed-ended questions, but may contain several open-ended questions; not flexible
Deliverables Report summarizes findings with quotes from respondents illustrating points; audio and/or video tapes of each session Report with key findings and detailed findings; charts and/or graphs containing statistical results; can include multivariate analyses
Timing Usually between 2 and 6 weeks Can take 2 or 3 months
Major benefits Ability to probe issues "on the spot;" client gets to see and hear "live" customers/prospects, gain an in-depth view of the market process; good for narrowing choices of concepts when you have more than about three; good for sensitive topics like health issues Reliable statistics to aid a go/no go decision; or to provide credible documentation. Good for obtaining a macro view of the market as well as a detailed description of market segments
Disadvantages Can investigate only a small part of the market at any one time; no guarantee of representative sample; results are directional. Groups can be steered by one or two strong participants Difficult to obtain a clear picture of "why" or "how" things work. Can be unwieldy if there are too many concepts to test, or if the questionnaire is too long; may take a long time.

Is an online survey best for me?
Before you decide to conduct a survey online, there are some key questions you should ask:

  • Does the topic of the survey have to do with a product or service offered online, such as buying online (e-commerce), receiving information online, or playing games online?
  • Is the population you want to reach well-represented within the typical online population.
  • Do you want to reach a niche group, which is normally expensive to do by telephone and slow to do via mail panels?
  • Do you want to conduct an employee survey, where you know that the entire population has an e-mail address and uses it?
  • Are most of the questions closed-ended?
  • Are there complicated grids that must be filled out, or questions that could be misinterpreted?

Nowadays, the online population is much more heterogeneous than it was even 5 years ago. Concerns about the representativeness of online samples, while they haven't disappeared, have lessened. Nevertheless, online surveys are like mail surveys in that they are self-administered. People can answer the questions incorrectly or inappropriately because their interpretation is left to the respondent. Sometimes, they leave answers blank and we have NO idea why.

Online surveys can be a great solution, but not always.

I need "quick and dirty" research-can you help me?
The quick and dirty answer is: NO. You can sometimes do research quickly without being slipshod, but doing slipshod research of any kind is a waste of time and money. It's like Chinese food: it may satisfy you right away, but an hour later you are hungry again. "Quick and dirty" research may satisfy your immediate need for information, but at best, it may leave you with more questions than it answers; at worst, it can be misleading or lack credibility.

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