Share this:

James Turner, CEO of Delineate, shares his thoughts on the missed opportunity of self-serve platforms

I was recently approached by the wonderful people at Voxpopme to participate in episode 14 of their Perspectives series (check it out at, which poses the question:

“Which market research technology or method did you think would have a huge impact on the market research industry… but hasn’t?”

It’s elicited some very interesting responses on digital listening and Google glass technology, gamification, behavioural data, creativity and our resistance to experimentation. Definitely worth a watch!

But if you prefer a read, here are my thoughts on the missed opportunity of market research self-serve platforms.

An opportunity waiting to be seized

For me, I thought that self-serve platforms and analysis tools were going to have the most impact on the market research  industry. The early noughties were an era of high-cost, slow brand tracking and ad-hoc quant from telephone and face to face interviewing.

The advent of online surveys promised us cheaper market research and faster analysis with direct access to survey data. But these platforms were not embraced by clients and agencies as openly as they might have been. And I think this is where we missed out on a potentially big change for the market research industry.

Instead of embracing analysis and end-client relationships, data collection platforms with their commercial models remained focused on enterprise feedback and customer satisfaction markets, the volume rather than value end of the market. Market research agencies began creating their own dashboard and reporting platforms which were “sticky” with clients. They offered a little customisation but nothing ground-breaking.

Maybe this is why clients resisted the self-serve option? Were they uncomfortable using the tools? Or they simply felt it wasn’t their job to do analysis. Either way, agencies kept the status quo and clients got marginally improved access to survey data.

Notable vendors have sprung up to plug the gaps, but we haven’t moved that far from where we were in the early noughties. There are great tools out there for automating PowerPoint (if that’s what you want to do). But we’re still using survey platform companies to collect data and agencies to handle data processing and analysis. In many instances we’re seeing quite basic reporting. This is at a time when clients are demanding more utility from their data, delivered more quickly and cost effectively.

The opportunity is still there

What I find interesting is that clients have adopted in-depth tools in other aspects of their organisation. Business Intelligence tools like Tableau or Microsoft’s Power BI have a strong following within finance, marketing, and other departments.

I hear market research colleagues argue that survey data has its nuances. That survey data is complex. That it’s easy to make analysis mistakes. All of which are true. However, Business Intelligence tools are now able to process very complicated data sets. From structured and hierarchical data, to unstructured and open-text data, in large volumes. Clients are beginning to catch on to the opportunities that self-serve BI tools present.

Change is coming though. I don’t think it will be too long before we see more clients considering a shift to these newer tools for more of their insight sources. The pressure for organisations to have “one truth”, all data sources in one place, is great. The need for faster “what if?” analysis and hypothesis testing is ever-increasing. Having a research agency in between the survey data and the client is simply not going to work in every case.

It’s time that the market research industry looked again at advantages of these technologies to up its game and allow clients to utilise the data more effectively.

Perhaps it’s time for a modern “data standard” for survey data? A way that will allow correct analysis using newer BI tools, finally allowing organisations to get value.

At the very least, it is time that the market research industry reassessed the advantages of these technologies to up its game and allow clients to utilise the data more effectively.