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Problems with online dashboards in market research

Iris data visualisationData reporting in market research is changing. We are emerging from a 20-year or so period where PowerPoint presentations have dominated into an era where online data visualisation becomes the norm. Dapresy, Tableau and MarketSight, as well as some others, have been in this market for a few years but there are good reasons why they have not been adopted by most market research agencies. It’s hard to argue against the fact that, ideally, market research data should be available online to interrogate and to explore for every research project. What’s more, that data should be available in a meaningful way.

Change is happening

This article will argue that changes are happening and that, although the market research landscape looks poor compared to other industries when it comes to data visualisation, improvements are arriving. Just read through to the end!

The challenge for the market research industry

Market research is increasingly being billed as ‘business intelligence’ and providing ‘insights’. To me, market research hasn’t changed. It is the business of collecting accurate data and delivering the aggregated results from that data in a meaningful way. There is an increasing number of data visualisation tools, but do they serve that market research industry well? I would argue that they generally don’t.

Market research dashboards have special needs

The problem is exacerbated as market research dashboards have some special needs that other industries don’t have. Here are some examples:

  • Market research data is often weighted or is hierarchical in structure
  • There is often a need to group data – such as ‘top 2 box’ responses or any mention of sub-brands
  • Multiple response questions are common
  • Significance testing is needed
  • Care needs to be taken to avoid displaying data with low bases
  • Data often comes from specialist market research systems rather than common databases
  • And, there’s more…

The past, present and future in a nutshell

In the past, market research surveys have been presented as fixed PowerPoint presentations. PowerPoint has been a good standard as it has decent, if occasionally annoying, tools for presenting data as tables, charts and, to a lesser extent, as infographics. The recent past and present have allowed market researchers to present data as simple or complex online dashboards or by using online tools such as Google Slides. The future has to be online dashboards that can be interrogated easily and quickly – and, preferably, automatically. Is this a dream or ever going to be possible?

Online dashboards are not new but…

Online dashboards have been around for a long while. Big businesses have had their data available online for many years. Information, data representations and data interrogation are not new. Banks, travel, retail, FMCG companies and others have had data that is valuable to their staff and, sometimes, customers available as online dashboards.

But market research is different….

The problem with market research is that the data that you want to feed into a dashboard changes too much. A bank, for example, will tend to have the same data available to data users for years. There may be a new piece of data that needs to be added from time to time, but, generally, the data that is being fed into the dashboard is structurally the same – it is just being refreshed with new data.

The viability of online dashboards

Online dashboards have been made available to buyers of some market research studies, but they are the minority rather than the desired majority. Why? It’s about almost entirely about viability. The cost of preparing an online dashboard for a market research study has been too high unless the project is a) big b) a tracking study c) the buyer has sufficient budget. Market research is often squeezed on budget, making niceties such as an online dashboard too much of a luxury.

Putting market research data into online dashboards

Market research is not the same as most other business data. A survey usually contains relatively small amounts of data, the contents of which are different from every survey. What’s more, the data is a different ‘shape’ to almost all other business data. Market research data tends to be a (relatively) small number of records (respondents) with many fields of data or data points. Almost all other business data is a lot of records with a small number of fields. Think of what information a bank holds about you as a customer. It is likely to be relatively small amounts of data compared to a 20-minute market research survey which typically contains hundreds of fields.

What’s different about market research data?

So, let’s get to the nitty-gritty. There are several tools about which allow you to turn data into online dashboards – what are the inherent problems with most of the current contenders to date? The two major problems are the cost of the software products themselves and the time it takes to deliver. The time it takes means that high staff costs are incurred and, just as importantly, the dashboard cannot be ready immediately after the data has been collected. Let’s look at these two key areas in turn.

The cost of most online dashboard systems

As in most industries, there are some cheap or even free tools which will throw up an online chart on a survey, but this misses the point. A good online reporting tool must be flexible enough to provide the required presentation of figures, tables, charts and infographics. Further, the tool must be able to adapt to different users as different dashboard users may want different parts of the data or a different depth to the information available. This level of software often starts to cost $10,000+ or even much more. This is way outside the budget of almost all market research agencies.

The time it takes to deliver

Most dashboards that have been provided in market research have either been custom built by programmers/developers or have used sophisticated software that needs an expert to drive them. Custom dashboards can cost over $10,000 and sometimes much more – unquestionably unviable for a US$15,000 research project. Dashboards created by software attract high staff costs and the delivery is likely to take time and be a reduced value to the potential users of the dashboard. In other words, any thoughts of providing an online dashboard are just not practical – and so, a set of PowerPoint charts are despatched, which have, to say the least, far less use and impact.

What does market research need?

In simple terms, the tool that produces the online dashboard must be easy to use and quick to deliver, preferably faster than PowerPoint – and, of course, at a competitive cost. If that could be achieved, boring unimpactful PowerPoint presentations would be replaced by a management summary, key findings and an online dashboard. This must be an improvement. It is well known that our brains absorb far more visual information than written data.

Is it possible to deliver an online dashboard for every project today?

No, not yet, but a giant step has been made in the right direction. E-Tabs have released Iris, a product that we are delighted to be selling and supporting in Asia Pacific. The price is still not low enough for smaller projects, but it is still a giant step in the right direction as it is significantly cheaper than serious competitors. But – and it’s a big but – the real advantage is that it is easy to use and quick. It really is possible to deliver an online dashboard to a client more or less immediately after fieldwork has been completed.

Is this the end of the road?

I sincerely hope developments keep moving this way. The market research industry disappoints me sometimes and data delivery has been an area where market research has lagged for many years. It was one of the first 50 years ago to deliver data quickly and well, but it has slipped far behind in the last 25 years. The more this type of software is used and the more it is developed, the cheaper it will become and the more likely that market research will fight off the challenge of other industries. Iris is a big step in the right direction. I’m hoping that it’s the first of more steps in the right direction.

For more information about Iris, contact charlotte.fotoohi@mrdcsoftware.com.

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Phil Hearn
Author: Phil Hearn - Date posted: 5 January 2019
Category: dashboards - Tags: iris, dashboard, visualisation, data, online

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