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  • Elina Halonen

Why market research is like a car seat belt for dogs

A couple of recent conversations have reminded me of the importance of quality in research. This won't be a revelation to anyone working in the MR industry, but it is surprisingly common to meet people from outside who don't really understand why research can't (usually) be done with a peanut budget nor (usually) turned around in a New York minute. It's also a great opportunity for a canine-related public service announcement, so... here we go.


Dogs are close to my heart - specifically, my two spaniels Nell and Grace. A couple of years ago a friend enlightened me about some research she had done on dog car harnesses: to my surprise, despite marketing themselves as "crash tested" most car harnesses had actually never passed the test. A quick google search revealed some deeply unsettling facts and videos about what actually happens to a dog in a crash, which were followed by a speedy purchase. Since then I have been a bit of a canine car safety z̶e̶a̶l̶o̶t̶ enthusiast.


So, what do dog seat belts have to do with research?

A high quality dog car harness is well made, robust and easy to use.


It's also much more expensive than the one you can easily find in your local pet store, which makes you wonder if it's really worth it to pay all that extra - after all, this one seems to do the trick too. The one from the pet store will surely keep your dog at the backseat, and as such it ticks the box of legal and moral requirements of restraining your dog in a vehicle. You'll also get to pat yourself on the back for being such a Responsible Dog Owner.

Except... when something happens.


The impact of a moving car suddenly breaking means flimsy plastic buckles snap, the narrow strip of the cheap harness digs deep into your dog's chest - and the furry torpedo causes injury to human passengers too.


Bad research will not pass a crash test either

In his book "Choice Factory", Richard Shotton makes several mentions of how to do a bit of research for your behaviour change project on the cheap and also says that "large companies only need to allocate about 1% of their media budget" for digital media tracking - 1%! Of course, that's not specifically behaviour change projects, but it does echo the general appreciation of and value placed on research from many outside the industry - especially when it comes to behaviour change projects in the commercial sector, which can often be done without much research into the actual issues.


Research done with people who are not your target audience (or not enough people in general), with questions that are written in a hurry for data collected with bad UI/UX research tools, and finally analysed with little rigour will also allow you to pat yourself on the back and feel like you've Done the Right Thing by doing some research. But...


Poor quality data can disguise itself as good research

Just like the flimsy dog gear, research done too cheaply solves the wrong problem. It makes you feel better but is probably be a waste of money - and actually harmful too if you are basing business or spending decisions on the data.


No, not all research needs to be a six-figure strategic project that takes 10 weeks to complete.


All research includes compromises, and you can decide what tradeoff you are comfortable with - smaller sample size, not-quite-right target audience (if yours is very specific), client sample that is cheap but might be biased, not as well designed research, direct questions when you didn't have time to think of better ones or quick and dirty analysis that might have left gaps in your knowledge.


Make those tradeoffs consciously.


Quite often there is a baseline of cost simply because we need to pay people to give us their time and opinions, and if we want to get to the heart of the problem it will take a bit of time to come up with a way of asking questions so that we get around the biases inherent in any research method - namely, that people don't know their own minds, don't want to tell us what they're thinking, or might not even remember.


If we don't truly understand the behaviour we want to change and the context it occurs in, we are simply guessing and might be solving the wrong problem - exactly like the flimsy dog car harness.


But at least it was cheap, right?


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P.S. If you have dogs and want to keep them (and yourself) safe when you travel, I recommend Ezydog Drive harnesses as modelled by Nell & Grace on the right - one of the few harnesses that have passed crash tests and at 5x the price of one in your local pet shop, still worth every cent.

TL;DR of canine travel safety:

  1. Even if you think you won't have an actual crash, it's not too uncommon to have to break suddenly - unrestrained, your dog will crash into your seat back or into the footwell, and hurt themselves

  2. No harness and your dog is a deadly torpedo - 40 times their weight at 50kmph (imagine that hits you on the back!)

  3. Anything with plastic buckles will break and an dog will be badly injured - at higher speeds they might die and/or kill you as well.

  4. If the buckles don't break, any harness with a thin strap at the front will severely injure your dog's internal organs because all of the impact force will focus on a small area

  5. Crates are also not safe (some footage here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_99m1-33_XU) unless you have a crash tested box, in Europe TransK9 makes some that are.

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