When it comes to quality, we in marketing research really are the French.

If that seems like a bit of a non-sequitor, allow me to explain.  I get a real kick out the French, and how much they try to protect their “Frenchness.”  McDonalds opens another restaurant in France and the opening is met with protests and howls of despair.  They’ve even set a few on fire to protest the encroachment of American culture on France.

And yet, why does McDonalds keep opening new restaurants in France?  Because French people keep eating at McDonalds!  Yet somehow, McDonalds is seen as the villain.  Oddly enough, the French protest the invasion of McDonalds into their culture when they are the very ones who give the company enough business to allow that invasion to continue.

Don’t take this as a slam on the French, since Americans do it too.  We gripe about manufacturing going overseas, then buy foreign-made products.  We gripe about the death of small retailers, then buy our clothes and TVs at the big-box stores.  We create the problem, and then we complain about it.

Just like in research.  I was recently involved in a discussion about focus group recruiting fraud on LinkedIn.  One person in the discussion made the point that people who are concerned about poor recruiting and fraud need to get involved with industry trade groups to help establish practices and guidelines that everyone can follow.

While industry involvement is a great goal, it won’t solve our problems.  We already have all sorts of guidelines from groups such as CASRO, ESOMAR, the QRCA, the MRA, and plenty of others that can be followed.

Yet focus group facilities that continue to recycle the same professional respondents into groups continue to get business.  CATI facilities that employ interviewers who read the questions like a computer with an indecipherable accent on Quaaludes continue to be paid to make thousands of research calls.

In our recent report Dirty Little Secrets of Online Panels, we found online panel companies that were sending out 50 to 60 invitations per months to the same respondents, over and over again –an inexcusable breach of quality.  But a number of major national brands were using those panel companies.  In fact, two of the biggest names in the research industry – both of whom most likely talk a great game about how we need to have industry standards to ensure the highest levels of quality – were guilty of sending studies to these panels.

It’s up to us, people.  It’s up to us not to send 30-minute questionnaires into the field.  It’s up to us to stop using vendors who take shortcuts.  It’s up to us to actually explore what’s going on in the field, rather than just giving the project to a vendor and waiting for the recruits or the data to spit out the other side.  It’s up to us to stop creating new guidelines for quality and start insisting the ones we have actually be used.  It’s up to us to try to educate clients who want to use a convenience sample rather than a representative sample, rather than throwing up our hands and saying, “Well, if we don’t take the project and do it that way, someone else will.”

It’s up to us to create enough value for our clients that they’ll actually want to listen to us when we suggest that a particular way of doing things will result in bad data.  It’s up to us to hold our vendors accountable and make sure they’re doing things right – and either educate them or stop giving them business if they’re not.

If the French are all that concerned that McDonalds is destroying their culture, all they have to do is stop eating at McDonalds.  If Americans are actually that worried that the small local retailer is going to go out of business, all we have to do is shop at those retailers.

If researchers are really concerned that shortcuts and poor practices are destroying our industry, all we have to do is stop using those shortcuts and poor practices, and stop using the vendors that do.  It’s really not that complicated.

So – anyone care to join me for Le Big Mac au Pain Complet?


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