What Type of Research Firm is Best for You? It’s a Matter of Taste

By David M. Schneer, Ph.D.

What type of restaurant is your favorite?  Do you prefer large chains that offer the same, predictable menu no matter where you go?  You know what you will get; the food and service will be decent, and it will typically be prepared and served by relatively inexperienced employees.  Or, do you prefer an independently owned neighborhood restaurant where the food is made to order  and maybe even served by a business owner?

Well, that’s the same choice buyers of marketing research services must make.  Do I go with the large chains (e.g., Nielsen, Kantar, IPSOS, GfK) or do I go with a boutique marketing research firm? Driven by globalization, standardization, and a search for greater profit, the chains have continued to gobble up smaller research companies. The remaining smaller research firms, especially those that have been around for 30+ years, have stood the test of time and have clearly found a desirable and effective approach that has served their customers well.

There are benefits of working with the big and the small. Big research firms typically offer “products” (opposed to solutions).  Their one-size-fits-all model allows their less experienced account executives to market and manage large research projects without fear of making mistakes; after all, their recipe is well defined and unchanging. There is something to be said for repetition and being predictable as long as your appetite can be sated by their menu selection.  Such a selection also places less responsibility on the customer since the big firms do it their way (think: “who’s ever been fired from buying from IBM?”)  Big firms hold their recipes close to the vest, so you are often buying into a black box and have to trust that the ingredients are healthy and nutritious, even if the food is just moderately satisfying. But what if you’re craving something that is not on the menu? Well, that’s where the boutiques come in to play.

Trusting a project to a boutique research firm, especially one with a lengthy track record, is a very different experience.  A smaller research firm will work with you to understand the nuances of your appetite (i.e., what do you really want from this specific situation?) and work with you in order to provide you a highly customized experience.  You will be welcomed in the kitchen as much as your time and interest will allow. In the end, you will feel enriched by the entire experience – both from the perspective of the experience being just right (specific objectives met) as well as learning from the highly experienced personnel of the supplier, whose menu is customized to your tastes.

Whichever type of firm you work with, bon Appetit!

Merrill Research, Experience You Can Count On