Brand research is too expensive, right?

Wednesday, 05 August 2015 09:44

It’s a lament we often hear from business owners and marketers: “we need to understand our customers better, but we simply can’t justify a big, expensive market research project”.

So what can they do?

The good news is that, contrary to popular belief, market research doesn’t always have to be expensive. There are ways to gather relevant and compelling insights into your market and key audiences without needing to set aside the big budgets traditionally associated with market research.

To explore this further, let’s look at the main elements that determine the costs of research projects:

Project elements

What it may involve

Cost impact

Money saving potential

Project set up Defining the problem, setting objectives, design and methodology, writing questionnaire and discussion guide Low Low
Finding the right people Recruitment, access to databases, incentives High Medium
Gathering data Quant:  Interviews, hosting High High
Qual:  Moderator time, venue hire, travel time High Medium - low
Analysis and insight identification Analysis, report write up and delivery Medium Low

Download our free Guide to Brand Research to gain a deeper understanding of the research options available.

Starting with the negative, there are two clear “no-go” areas when it comes to saving research money – the beginning and the end. To quote Albert Einstein “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes”. In fact, spending time on thoughtful planning at the start can be a great way to actually save money on the project overall.

At the end of the process, scrimping money on analysis and insight identification is a false economy. One of my favourite quotes from this year’s Mumbrella 360 conference was “data is an expense but insight is a bargain” (thanks to Simone Blakers from Rapp). The very best data in the world is useless without taking the time to make sense of it – what does it all mean, and how can the business use this information to answer the problem and make a difference to their business?

Beyond these no-go areas, there are some clear ways that businesses can save money on the research process, with some planning and prioritisation. Our four top money saving tips are:


Finding the right people can be one of the most expensive elements of a research process, particularly if your intended audience is niche (for example senior professionals and high net worth individuals). However, this cost can be substantially reduced if you have access to a database of your audience - your existing customers, a mailing list of potential customers or access to an industry database. Of course, this is is less helpful for times when you need insights for those who are unaware of or unfamiliar with your brand.


Back in the old days, the most common way to collect large volumes of data was via telephone interviews or even door-to-door. While these methods are still used, the availability of online channels has significantly reduced the potential cost of large scale studies. This means that quantitative research projects are now more accessible to businesses. Qualitative studies can also be conducted successfully online, but there is little cost benefit (there are some other compelling benefits, but that is a whole other story).


Unfortunately saving money often means sacrifice. In terms of research, this might mean defining some clear priority areas and choosing to focus on only one or two target audience groups or making questionnaires or interviews shorter.


For qualitative projects, travel costs can quickly escalate if a researcher needs to travel across the city or inter-state. Our experience is that there are surprisingly few differences between capital cities around Australia, and often focussing on just one city has no negative impact on outcomes.


Re-evaluating your existing research or information in the public domain via a desk research project is a very cost-effective way of gathering insights. There are also a wide range of observational techniques that business people can use to understand their customers better (topic for another blog!!)
With the rise of online survey tools, it can be tempting to consider saving money by running research yourself. While some of these survey tools are very effective, we don’t recommend DIY research without professional input for a couple of reasons:

    • Expertise: usually it’s not as easy as pulling together a few questions and seeing what people have to say. Good research requires carefully-designed questionnaires and thoughtful analysis. Without both, you risk findings that are limited at best and misleading at worst


    • Objectivity: professional research consultants bring a fresh set of eyes, and ability to see beyond the immediate challenges. An independent approach brings perspective and legitimacy.


  • Experience: given the number of research projects we complete every year we are consistently interrogating markets, companies, business people and consumers. This experience allows us to be more efficient and more incisive in not only our analysis, but our questioning also.

So in summary, with careful planning and some prioritisation it is entirely possible to get a better understanding of your customers through market research on a tight budget. Please call us / drop us a line if you’d like get some advice on how best to approach or tackle your research project (large or small) and to see how far your budget can stretch.