Pack your bags. Get on the road. Sweat it out on the field.

“After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with colour, bountiful with life. Within decades, we must close our eyes again. Isn’t it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it?” – Richard Dawkins

Every human being on this planet has an explorer within themselves. We need to explore, open closed doors to find answers to our questions. Those who do not make an attempt to get out in the sun and explore, they will never find the true answers they seek. This would apply to every human, every marketer and of course, to every market researcher.

It is said that a marketer should try to get as close and personal to their consumers as possible instead of sitting in their ivory tower. However, this task is usually passed on to the researcher. But the researcher dwells in their own cosy ivory tower. The researchers need to be close to their consumers. The researcher’s consumers are their respondents. The respondents ‘consume’ the survey experience and if the survey questionnaire is created in the air-conditioned ivory tower of the researcher’s office, there may be high chances of things going awry.

We all know that the source of revenue for all research comes from the client and hence we need to delight the marketer who is our ‘customer’. But shouldn’t researchers also look at the other side of the same coin and realise that their true ‘consumers’ are their respondents?

A researcher has to ‘sell’ 2 products to 2 types of consumers:

  1. The research findings to the client, in exchange of their money
  2. The ‘survey experience’ to the respondent , in exchange of their time

The quality of the first product mentioned above depends solely on the quality of the second product. Data lies at the heart of insights and the respondent lies at the heart of the data.

Hence, it is as important for the researcher to be as close to respondents as it is to the client. Making a mind blowing presentation to the client is important, but it is more important to have an excellent well-planned survey experience for your respondents. The biggest hurdle between you and the robust questionnaire is your personal bias and your blind faith on your own knowledge and experience. In the words of Charles Thompson-

“Do anything to prevent yourself from becoming a prisoner of your knowledge, experience, and current view of the world… Be an explorer.”

Hence, it becomes a paramount duty of the researcher to visit field work for each of their studies. The field is the best place to learn MR and to enhance one’s knowledge and experience!

In India, a major chunk of quantitative research happens through PAPI with interviewers going door-to-door requesting for respondent’s time. Most studies in India have their sample spread across different geographical zones and languages. Doing a research study covering the whole country of India is equivalent to doing a multi-country study! This makes the challenge greater for the researcher to design a one-size-fits-all questionnaire keeping in mind the cultural and attitudinal diversity of the different regions. One word in one language could mean something completely absurd in another language! If the researcher personally does not keep an eye out on field, there will be many glitches that will go unnoticed and if we realise these glitches after we receive the final data, it would be too late to rectify them. The researcher should adopt the mantra – Better Safe than Sorry!

Pilot tests should be a part of every study. However, in many cases there is dearth of time to insert a pilot. Hence, keeping an eye on field-work at least during the initial phase of the research becomes mandatory. It not only works as a quality control device, it also provides the researcher a first-hand “feel” of the respondents’ views and brings her closer to the hidden insights when may not be revealed just by looking at the rows and columns of the excel sheet data that we receive in our ivory towers. We must have encountered weird-looking and contradictory data many times in our studies. We end up blaming the data quality for it. We are left with many unanswered questions and loose ends that the rows and columns of numbers are not able to answer. If the researcher goes out and meets the respondent face-to-face, keeps an eye on how each question is being administered by the interviewer and how each answer is being recorded, she can easily plug in the missing pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. Getting to know the pulse of the consumers at their homes, being an explorer is what a true researcher should do. If we brainstorm and dive through the excel sheets within our offices, we will surely find a light bulb of an idea. But we should realise that the ‘sun’ is out there which glows brighter than a million light bulbs!

“Following the light of the sun, we left the Old World.” – Christopher Columbus

“Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.” – Buddha

TANVI GUPTA, Eternal Student and Research Executive at Millward Brown, India. Reach me on twitter @Tanvi_MR