By Marina Laven

My husband and I like to consider ourselves DIY people. Why spend extra money on service when you can do it yourself?

That is why this spring, when our two boys started waking up with the sunrise, we decided to purchase blackout curtains from Canadian Tire with the intention of installing them ourselves.

There was only one issue.  

When we got home, we realized that the curtain rods really did not fit our windows. This did not discourage us in the slightest!  ‘Now we know better!’ we exclaimed and ordered a new set of blackout curtains online. When they arrived, we realized that we did not measure the windows properly and the curtains were too small, leaving large gaps for the sun to get in. ‘No problem!’ we cheered and went to Home Depot to buy ‘cut it yourself’ paper curtains. We cut them. They fit just fine, but it would take me up to five minutes every morning to pull them up. Needless to say, I gave up on this pretty quickly and my kids’ room plunged into a state of perpetual darkness.

‘No worries…’ whispered my husband as he set off to purchase a set of vinyl curtains.  The result was a severe allergic reaction and utter desperation in my exhausted body.

At this point I could not take it anymore. I went to our local curtain boutique and placed a custom order. Two weeks and $1,500 later we had beautiful blackout curtains that perfectly fit our windows and could be lifted with the push of a button. My twins slept till eight in the morning. I was delirious with both joy and accumulated sleep deprivation.

Looking back and calculating ROI, I realized that we spent about a year and close to $1,000 on DIY curtains that did not work and then ended up spending an additional $1,500 to get the results we wanted.  

Feeling like a fool, I learned a very important lesson: when it comes to something important, leave it to the professionals.

I regularly encounter similar situations in market research these days. It’s becoming more common for marketers to use online DIY tools, whether it be Google Survey, Survey Monkey or other similar platforms. Being not just a researcher, but also a consumer, I often find myself on the receiving end of these DIY surveys as well. Sometimes they make me laugh. Sometimes they make me cry. Very rarely do I feel like I am answering a survey that would result in the insight its creators are seeking.

I remember one Google Survey that asked me which brand of dog food I would prefer (forced choice, no n/a option available), without first asking me whether I have a dog (I don’t) or if I am aware of these brands (I was not). I had the choice to either answer and provide false information or close the survey and miss the opportunity to earn 30 cents. What would most people do in this situation?

A few days ago, I was sent survey via Survey Gizmo that included a conjoint module. I won’t reveal the brand, but let’s just say it was for online graphic design software. It showed three options in a row, the first one had all possible features for $19, the next one had no features (yes, no features at all, not even a basic offering, in fact it had a glaring NO next to the basic offering!) for $39! You really cannot do conjoint like that.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a rant against Google Surveys or Survey Monkey. They are great products for their purposes and I use them myself when something quick and easy needs to be done. But you can’t replicate training and years of experience working with surveys.  Knowing how and what questions should be asked, how to structure your sample and how to interpret the results is essential. 

So unless you are a market researcher or you have time to invest in training and education to understand the intricacies of the market research trade or you simply do not care about the results, please hire the professionals.