DIY Research burst onto the marketing research scene back in 1999 with the launch of SurveyMonkey and Zoomerang. While they enjoyed some success in their early years, usage of these tools really took off during the recession, as budget cutting forced everyone to do more with less. And in spite of the improvement in the economy – and the disparagement of DIY by the traditional marketing research community – DIY marketing research is going strong. And that’s a good thing!

Huh? How can I say it’s good when so many researchers feel just the opposite? Well, would you say TurboTax is less accurate than an accountant? Is a will prepared with legal software of any less quality than one prepared by a lawyer? Or, are they just different tools, used for different purposes in different situations?

DIY tools have an important role to play in the world of insights. We researchers should be happy that the desire and demand for insights as a guide in shaping strategy and making decisions is growing. If we think about our industry with an “abundance mentality” – meaning there is plenty of demand and it’s more about a bigger pie than how many ways it gets sliced, then we can also consider the usage of DIY as a positive force. It can provide the means to answer more questions and allow professional researchers to shift the work they do upstream, while leaving the simple and mundane to the software.

A panel of corporate researchers at the recent CASRO conference discussed the use of DIY research in corporate settings. The speakers agreed that most often, time and money drive the decision whether to use DIY or to seek the assistance of a third-party research partner. DIY research typically costs less and allows corporate marketers to stretch their research budgets. While that is true, looking at budget and timing alone is a mistake. The most important consideration – mentioned by at least one speaker – is whether the question and the complexity of answering it warrants the investment in professional research help.  Or is the question simple enough – or “low value enough” to be addressed using DIY software? When used intelligently, DIY tools allow brands to “right-size” their research investment to the value of the learning.

But there is a danger. Because these techniques are so available and user-friendly, it can be tempting to think that they are appropriate for every research question. TurboTax may be appropriate for many tax returns, but attempting to use the software when issues get complicated and the stakes are high can lead to a disastrous result. The same can be said about DIY software, and the speakers had the stories (and bruises) to back it up.

DIY tools are here to stay and will be used with or without “professional drivers”, putting many corporate marketing researchers in a tough spot. Most corporate researchers would prefer spending their time tackling the most significant and strategic research questions for their businesses vs. using DIY tools to execute simplistic research themselves. But, the volume of business questions requiring insights keeps growing – in most cases beyond the capacity of budget and time. And if corporate researchers do not address these needs, then others in their company are likely to do so themselves, potentially putting research quality and the influence of the research department at risk.

Corporate researchers will need to apply sound judgment and good policy to get the most from DIY tools – as well as from their own talents.