By Dave Glantz, Director of Research Services, Market Connections, Inc.
A number of factors need to be considered before I can answer the question about how much research costs, because everyone has different needs. That’s what keeps me from throwing a list of prices at you. For instance, if you were to walk into a car dealership and ask “How much does a new car cost?” the answer will make sense to you (and be accurate) only after you’ve sat down to discuss your needs and desires, and how you imagine using that car. Are you likely to be stuck in a traffic congested commute every morning? Do you plan on a lot of highway driving? Are you interested in speed? Safety? Reliability? Luxury? Or simply getting from point A to point B? Are you going to be the only one driving the car? Do you carry passengers? How many and how often? And how much are you willing to spend?
Likewise, when I’m asked about the price for a focus group, or in-depth interviews, or a survey, I naturally need to know what you want to achieve through the research, who you want to ask the questions of, and how you plan to act on the results. Your budget range is important, too – not because I intend to raise the price to fit the top of that range, but to ensure I properly scope the project to best meet your needs given the priorities and constraints you face.
Consider the price of a focus group study. I have conducted focus group studies costing anywhere from $10,000 for a single and very simple group of government IT professionals; up to $100,000 in the case of an eight-group study of mid- to senior-level professionals across multiple cities. More typically, two groups of business or government participants can cost between $18-30K and four groups from $35-60K. Yes, the range is wide. That’s why, to get to a precise price, any market research firm worth its salt needs to ask you a battery of questions. The people you want participating in the study is the single biggest price driver: it takes far more time and effort to recruit – and therefore costs much more to interview – a lieutenant general or Fortune 500 CEO than it does to speak to a high school student.
Here are some other price-related issues affected by the target audience:
- The budget depends on the number of audience types you are targeting and whether it makes sense to mix them into the same group or give them their own group to ensure an unbiased and more relevant discussion. We would not normally mix customers and prospects in the same group because their awareness of you, their experience with your products and services, and their perception of your brand could sharply differ. It could also easily lead to those more familiar with your brand dominating the discussion and skewing the findings.
- Where are your customers located? If they are scattered across the country or across the globe, we might very well drop the idea of an in-person group and recommend instead an online focus group as more economical for you and more convenient for the participants.
- Are you able to provide a contact list of the people you want us to recruit, or do you want us to compile that list? This can affect the price dramatically, depending on who the target is.
- Is the target audience very senior, or a very specific and hard-to-reach segment? Do you intend to discuss highly complex or sensitive issues? Any of these conditions may call for a change in strategy to more private one-on-one in-depth interviews.
These are not the only questions I might ask you concerning your target audience, but they are also among the most common. And on top of that, the type of recording, analysis, reporting, participant incentives and travel will impact the budget as well.
Conversely, the price for quantitative research can range widely, from $15,000 to over $100,000, with most studies in the $30,000-$55,000 range.
In these cases, you need to consider several issues:
- The target audience(s) you want to survey. Think again of the effort required to survey generals vs. students. This is the biggest driver of price.
- Your objectives: what do you want to learn from one or audience segments? Your goals and the number of targets may require us to slice and dice the data when we analyze the results, and since we’ll need to ensure each subgroup contains enough completed surveys to run a statistical analysis, this will drive the number of surveys required and thus drive the price. In tandem with that, the number of completed interviews per target group is also a factor.
- Telephone or online? Related to your objectives, the audience, and the nature of the questions to be asked, there is another set of considerations around whether a telephone or online methodology makes more sense.
- The number of questions you want to ask. This could reduce or lengthen the survey, in turn affecting respondents’ willingness to take the time to answer the questions, and is thus another driver of price.
- The types of questions to ask. Are there many open-ended questions that require probing by the interviewer, or long lists of statements for respondents to address?
Some other factors affecting quantitative survey pricing include translation (if multiple languages and/or countries are required), as well as any applicable incentives, analysis, coding of open-ended questions, and reporting. As you can see, there is a lot to consider. It is the research firm’s job to walk you through these considerations. It may sound daunting, but by going through this exercise up-front you will benefit from a much more focused research effort, eliminate misunderstandings along the way, and get the value you expect.
This brings me back to the price of the car you want. If it’s for the occasional Sunday drive around your neighborhood, a $20K car will do nicely. But if you go off-roading in the Sahara, your car will need additional capabilities and you may want additional amenities to be comfortable in that harsh environment, all of which are likely to drive the price significantly higher. Once the dealership knows why you need the car, who is driving, who and how many passengers are coming along, where you intend to go and how fast you want to get there, they can determine the best approach and budget. The same principles apply to market research where pricing is concerned.
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