Is research a waste of money?

I don’t think so, but it’s a fair question. And one I’ve been asked a lot in one way or another over the years.

Research can be a tough sell. But it’s my job to help you see the benefits. I’m going to attempt to do that, one query or statement at a time.

This is Pearson Insight’s version of readers’ questions (and statements).

“Why are you wasting money on this survey? Nothing ever happens.” - Jeff, survey respondent

Hi Jeff,

Many moons ago, before I did research for a living, I’d have surveys drop through the letterbox or pop up in my inbox and sometimes I’d ask the same question you’re asking. What is the point of this? Surely there are better things to spend money on? 

With the current state of the economy, when budgets in the public sector and private sector have taken a hit, throwing money at surveys can seem even more pointless. 

But you know what? Done right (when you target the right people and ask the right questions — both of those things are important) surveys are one of the more cost-effective methods of research.

And they’re a great way for you to have your voice heard. 

It does seem like shouting into the void sometimes, but your answers do make a difference to your area or services you use. 

Like when housing association, Accent, used feedback to inform its five-year plan, introduce rewards, engage young people and change how it communicates with customers.  

Or when companies like IKEA and Lego let customers decide which products should be made, then make them. 

Good stuff happens when people like you get involved. 

What’s important is the way results are communicated to you. If you can see how your answers have been taken on board and used to create change, surveys will seem like less of a waste. And I reckon you might be more up for completing the next one. 

So stick with them, Jeff. And always make sure whoever is running the survey provides feedback. 



“Why would I waste time and money on research? We know what our audience wants.” - Arjun, business owner 

Hello Arjun, 

No one knows your business better than you do and there’s absolutely no point in wasting time and money on research if you don’t need it. 

What I will say is, keep close tabs on your customers. They can be a tricky bunch. Sometimes, you can be sure that you know what they want from you, only for them to throw a massive spanner in the works that leaves you questioning if all that ‘the customer is always right’ business is nonsense. 

Take Satisfries, for example. They were Burger King’s healthy alternative to french fries, with 40% less fat and 30% fewer calories. 

You’d think they’d be a no brainer. Burger King did. 

But customers weren’t having it. They didn’t want to pay more for their fries and they weren’t bothered about having a healthier choice. If you want a healthy dinner you go to Morrisons for a salad box. 

The vast majority of the time, Burger King gets their assumptions right. This time they got them wrong. 

See research as a way to test what you think you already know. Use it just to be on the safe side. So you’re not throwing money at something your customers decide they don’t want. 

Have a good one. 


“We have Google Analytics, we know what works.” - Lisa, marketing manager

Hi Lisa, 

Well played on using website analytics. They're good, aren't they? I found out the other day that someone reads my blog in Papua New Guinea. I’d be well up for doing some research over there. 

Google Analytics takes some beating when it comes to the big numbers: site speed, landing pages, bounce rates, traffic sources and so on. All that is a must for improving your website and marketing. 

But if you ever want to know who your customers are beyond basic demographics and why they do things like look at your site for a little bit then leave or abandon the basket when all they have to do is pop in their card details, surveys might come in handy. 

And if you know what customers are doing and why they’re doing it, you’re onto a winner. 

Take care. 


“We’re not spending money on research, we can do this ourselves.” - Alex, CEO 

Hiya Alex, 

I read your comment and thought this post might be useful to you: how to do some research with no budget. 

There are a few tips in there that’ll help you gather up the data you need without forking out a penny. 

I’m not a fan of spending money on stuff I can do myself either. I do find that it’s easier to justify when you see it as an investment, though. 

For example, I recently attempted to paint all the skirting boards and door frames in my house.

It started off alright. The early prep stuff — stripping paint and sanding woodwork — was straightforward. Mind-numbing, but doable. 

Then I started putting on the primer and realised, ‘crikey, this is boring. I’m crap at painting and it’s going to take forever’. So I bit the bullet. I hired a painter as an investment in the house, my sanity and my life (my wife would have never let me hear the end of it if I’d have gotten gloss on the walls). 

Research is an investment as well. You don’t just get surveys or some interviews, you get data and insights that you can use to do better work. 

On top of that, you get the work by a professional who knows the job inside out, which gives you peace of mind and you can get back to doing what you do best.

Best of luck with your research. If you decide it isn’t worth the hassle, hire a consultant and tell yourself it’s an investment.   

Take care,