We have moved into the data-centric era. It is now a best-practice to measure everything we do in business.

If you are a professional in one of the creative fields—design, advertising, marketing, branding, or PR—you need to measure your creative output and validate that it will do what you intend. When creativity and commerce intersect, measurement and validation are essential and overrule gut feelings.

We usually receive such validation by resorting to disciplines related to marketing research.

Market research surveys have been around for ages. But traditional marketing research (MR) is very expensive, difficult to access, and not very agile (i.e., slow). If you are an owner or a professional in a boutique agency in one of the creative fields, traditional MR's negatives are big: It is difficult to turn to your clients and propose a MR project to validate your creative output or plan, especially when it will cost them tens of thousands of dollars and require up to three months to turn around.

So, what's a boutique agency, sole proprietor, or consultant—or, for that matter, any marketer—to do? Well, fortunately there is a revolution brewing in MR that's good for nearly everyone and makes MR something that even the smaller players can fully participate in.
Tapping into the social graph reduces the cost, accessibility, and speed of MR. The social Web has made consumer opinions more easily available than ever. Plus, consumers are much more amenable to giving their opinions online than when they are sitting down for dinner and the phone rings.

This new revolution is also bringing a do-it-yourself (DIY) opportunity to the fore. Boutique agencies and creative professionals can perform MR via online services that provide survey tools and built-in consumer panels.

Imagine being able to write a survey, drill down into your target respondent, launch to target audiences, and start seeing survey results streaming back in minutes. Such services now exist, and they will disrupt traditional, expensive, slow, and difficult-to-access MR. These new types of surveys also address some of the problems of traditional, boring online surveys: nobody likes to read gobs of text and look at large matrices. (Twitter has taught us some big lessons. Less is more, and that principle applies to surveys as well.) Shorter questions and answers allow respondents to focus better.

Now, you can launch an MR survey over the weekend and come to work on Monday with the answers you need. The competitive playing field between smaller and larger agencies is being leveled. Boutique agencies generally have the advantage of agility, and this new MR technology plays right into that strength. Professionals at the smaller agencies can do fast DIY MR, validate their creative output and plans with real US consumers in a few hours or days, and make the timely decisions needed to keep their edge.

Where do the professional marketing researchers fit in the new revolution? They will access the social graph with the newer platforms and tools. One of their biggest headaches today is dealing with consumer panel companies, which are entrenched giants that control and maintain large email lists of consumers they can recruit for a survey. They tend to have poorly responsive sales departments and usually charge a lot per respondent to complete a survey. Consumer panel companies contribute to the high cost, poor access, and lack of agility of the established MR industry. But the newer approaches to MR will disrupt that old way of doing business.

The good news is that MR costs are falling—and will continue to fall. Access for anyone wishing to use DIY MR is here and will only expand. Results from MR projects can now be days or hours away, and very soon will be hours or minutes away. Accordingly, creative professionals can now test and validate more frequently and make the appropriate pivots needed to make their work as effective as possible.

There is one other opportunity here for boutique agencies. Often, one of their deficiencies (compared with larger competitors) is that they don't offer a complete set of services. It is now possible to obtain white-label MR platforms they can incorporate into their own platforms. That puts them in the market research business and enhances their offering to clients.

Boutique agencies (and others) can establish their final MR charges based on the value that they add. They can incorporate MR professionals in the process, to the degree they deem appropriate, and make MR a core competency and profit center of their business.

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Lev Mazin is co-founder and CTO of AskYourTargetMarket.com, an online market research platform with a built-in US consumer panel.