Speed and quality – friend or foe? Using marginal gains theory to speed up market research

Anyone who works in market research will probably have spotted the growing need for faster, more agile approaches.

Businesses that can work effectively at speed tend gain a competitive advantage, so keeping up with these ever-increasing demands is key to everyone’s survival. In the past, the word ‘quick’ has often been followed by the words ‘and dirty’ – implying there must be a trade-off – you can’t have both in the same measure without sacrificing one or the other.

Our recent workshop at the BHBIA (British Healthcare Business Association) annual conference challenged this theory. We facilitated two x 45-minute sessions to encourage participants to apply new ways of thinking to the design and management of research.

But how do you speed up a labour intensive and highly regulated industry?

Well, we think the answer lies in marginal gains theory. I’m sure many of you have heard of this philosophy as it has been applied to many industries but arguably most successfully to sport.

In fact, the theory of marginal gains helped the British cycling team win 16 gold medals over two Olympics and seven Tour de France wins in just eight years – a terrific change of fortune compared to the preceding eight years.

So, what is marginal gains theory and how does it work? The idea is simple – you take a process and break it down from start to finish, thinking about how every small detail can be improved at each step.

Each individual change alone will make little difference, but the culmination of hundreds of tiny changes, applied over many years will eventually result in an extraordinary improvement.

To give you an idea of how the Great Britain Cycling team applied this theory, here are some examples of the changes they made:

  • They hired a surgeon to teach each rider the best way to wash their hands to reduce the chances of them catching a cold and then missing training

  • They determined the type of pillow and mattress that led to the best night’s sleep for each rider (better rest leads to better recovery)

  • And they even painted the inside of the team truck white, to help them spot little bits of dust that might degrade the performance of the finely tuned bikes

So, our workshop took the idea of marginal gains and applied it to market research.

We broke the research process into six stages from proposal to delivery of results and brainstormed ways to save time at each stage of the process. This was conducted from the point of view of a client, research consultant and fieldwork agency.

The results were fascinating with a wide range of small, incremental improvements that could help us speed things up, including:

  • Developing translation libraries for quick turn-around of standard introduction texts

  • Self-serve recruitment platforms to cut out the middle-man – HCPs book themselves into the moderator’s available calendar slots

  • Challenging the need for arduous quotas that slow recruitment – especially if you know they will eventually need to be relaxed anyway

  • Conducting short micro interviews where objectives are focused, and a long interview not needed

  • Combining qualitative with quantitative by using hybrid methods and platform

  • Conducting real-time analysis as the research happens to save time at the back-end

  • ‘Find and start’ recruitment (not seeing recruitment and fieldwork as two separate phases)

  • Using technology to help automate labour intensive tasks i.e. video / attention / sentiment analysis, coding and transcription

  • Using podcasts and journalistic styles to rapidly report findings in ways that are easy and quick for clients to digest

These are just a few of the ideas that rose to the top, but it showed us that if we all work together, speed and quality can go hand-in-hand.

If British cycling, Formula One, the aviation industry and even speed eaters have successfully applied the theory or marginal gains isn’t it time market research caught up?

To find out more about the findings from our workshop please get in touch at hello@dayonestrategy.com

 To hear about this theory of marginal gains from Sir Dave Brailsford himself https://youtu.be/NQxYlu12ji8

Further reading: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-34247629

Written by Hannah Mann – Founding Partner at Day One Strategy.