Unprecedented growth creates new challenges in the insight economy

While some have seen the success of the market research sector as a cause for celebration, others have raised concerns about the potential problems facing this expanding industry.

The primary concern is that the market research sector may soon become a victim of its own success. As the industry develops and its services become a necessity for any business seeking commercial advantages, the demand for high-quality market research participants also increases.

This is, however, where the problem lies. With offers of lucrative incentives and an overall increased awareness of market research, the supply of genuine participants may be getting muddied with people who view it as an opportunity to earn an additional income – people who are willing to go to great lengths to take part.

“It’s a well-known problem in market research,” says Abi Fuller, managing director at Acumen Fieldwork. “In the years that we’ve been finding people for market research, we’ve seen a huge shift in the tactics that people use to get selected. Whereas in the past people might have bent the truth slightly on which brands they preferred, it’s now far more common for people to create entirely fictional identities, which can be very hard to detect.”


The consequences of this issue have not been fully dealt with in the industry, but Acumen Fieldwork are not alone in understanding the harm this can pose to the legitimacy of their data.

A study by Verve Research in 2015 found that up to 60 per cent of their online panel participants could be giving false or incorrect answers, largely driven by their own fears of privacy and data protection. However, more crucially, the same study found that it only takes a small sample of participants to provide incorrect answers for the overall value of the data to decline.

This is a significant issue for quantitative researchers, but it’s much more problematic for qualitative agencies that are dependent on smaller sample sizes and have greater emphasis on the veracity of participants’ responses. It’s not difficult to see how just a few people motivated solely by financial gain could significantly skew the results of large-scale projects.


“We saw the direction things were heading several years ago and made the decision to invest heavily in our systems,” says Ms Fuller. “We designed Acumonitor – our own in-house software which detects fraudulent or duplicate participants immediately. It means we can filter our sources to ensure we only send our clients the bona-fide, high-quality people they’re looking for.”

While other fieldwork agencies may now only just be realising the scale of this problem, Acumen Fieldwork’s solution seems effective for those who have benefited from it.

It’s not difficult to see how just a few people motivated solely by financial gain could significantly skew the results of large-scale projects

“We really value Acumen’s transparency and commitment to quality,” says Jack Fryer, director of research and planning at Universal Music. “They are longstanding partners of ours and we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to anyone who needs to get a deeper understanding of their customers or audiences. I understand that their system, Acumonitor, is part of what’s helped them to deliver those consistently high standards.”


But whether the best approach is bespoke software or an alternative solution altogether, Ms Fuller is adamant that this commitment to quality is the only way forward for this industry.

“For market research to continue its success, it has to maintain those levels of goodwill and trust,” she says. “It probably makes our work at Acumen much harder, always working to such high standards, but we’ve staked our reputation on our integrity. And that seems like the only truly sustainable way to grow any business.”