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The price of producing an online dashboard for market research projects is getting cheaper. This is good news for an industry that needs to deliver data to its customers effectively. But, is it viable for every project? The simple answer is no, but things are moving in the direction. It is now viable to produce online dashboards for most projects rather than just for the largest tracking studies or when you have a client with larger than average budgets.
Just as the saying goes that “a picture paints a thousand words”, market researchers ought to be saying that “an interactive dashboard paints a thousand static PowerPoint charts”. Well, maybe not, but there is no question that most people would prefer to be able to interrogate their data with simple interactive tools producing easily digestible reports that can be shared with colleagues.
Interactive tabulation software packages such as Quanvert, Reflect and MerlinPlus have been available since the 1990s to allow researchers and research buyers to interrogate data in more depth. Although they produce in depth analyses quickly from the largest research projects, their output is a table, which may not be familiar to the CEO or the Marketing Manager. Newer tools have added some charting capability, but an online dashboard offers a lot more.
Similarly, it is possible to build quite advanced interactive dashboards in Excel, but Excel suffers from two major problems. Firstly, it is not quick and easy to prepare the dashboard and, secondly and more importantly, Excel doesn’t really understand market research data. Everyday things such as multiple response questions are foreign to Excel.
Whilst a multi-country tracking study might have an adequate budget to build a custom dashboard for, say, US$20,000, most research projects are too small or do not have excessive budgets for either the software itself or the staff time to deliver an online dashboard. Many of the BI (Business Intelligence) software systems, which cater for online dashboard production, start at US$10,000 and reach six figures – and, that’s per year! This is clearly outside the budget of most market research agencies.
Time is, of course, another cost, so staff time preparing an online dashboard is important. But, time has another important consideration – that is, the immediacy with which a dashboard can be delivered. It’s usually of limited value if a dashboard cannot be delivered immediately or soon after the main data or findings have been delivered. Therefore, ease of preparation and short timescales in building a dashboard are of prime importance.
Now, this is more controversial, so please hear me out. I am not saying that online dashboards should be dull and boring, but I do believe that good enough is, well, good enough in most cases. By this, I mean that a good online dashboard only needs to have enough ways of displaying data clearly using tables, charts, infographics etc. Being able to design or program your own creative infographic is not usually important – clarity, ease to read/understand, interactivity, application of filters etc. are far, far more important. And, no I’m not saying that dull and boring is OK!
Some people are creative, others, like me, less so. A good online dashboard creation tool, above all else, should be easy to use for routine projects. You should be able to drag and drop what you want where you want and only need training that is focused on what you can do rather than how the hell do you do it. Yes, it ties in with the cost and time factors already cited above. PowerPoint can be infuriating (to me, at least) at times – creating a dashboard should certainly be no harder.
I would confess to being someone who does not like PowerPoint much. On the other side of the coin, I do realise that users of research data do still want some of their findings in PowerPoint. It’s hard to change a company’s culture where the CEO expects to see the headline findings in a PowerPoint presentation in their board room. Therefore, it is essential that an online dashboard can download reports and outputs to PowerPoint – and not as pictures but as editable charts, tables etc.
If you Google ‘online dashboards’ or even ‘online dashboards for market research’, you will find a wide selection of products. But, how many of these handle the peculiarities of market research data? Here’s some things that products claiming to be ideal for online dashboards for market research often fail to handle:
You may or may not agree with my assessment. You may be more involved in big tracking studies or major projects where a customised dashboard is the right route. If you agree with much or even all this blog article, it’s likely that we are potential supplier of software to you. If you disagree, I would like to know why, so please tell me. Indeed, I will be happy to update this blog post if I am persuaded by a good argument that is put forward.
To me, it is important that the market research industry moves forward. It’s important that ALL companies providing research can deliver online dashboards that are ‘good enough’ so that buyers of research can have data available conveniently, quickly and at little or no cost. The more this moves forward the lower cost will become and the better the industry will be. Do you agree?
Problems with online dashboards in market research