An oxymoron, non? Actually, people have tried to monetize this concept, but I’m not talking about reselling old, sometimes public domain, market research reports or traditional syndicated research. Moreover, when I think of open source, monetization is not top of mind. In fact, I’m not even thinking of giving people access to actual market research reports. What I am considering is this: is it possible to construct a type of searchable database containing non-proprietary outputs (and ideally meta-outputs; more on that later) from actual industry quantitative and qualitative research?
Let’s say, for example, that your company has a new product, Liquid X. Your industrial design people (or more likely some ambitious brand manager) wants to put Liquid X into an “upside down” container that stands on its cap. You’ve seen this done many times with toothpaste, ketchup, shampoo, etc, but your company has never done it. What are the basic parameters and constraints that affect usability? How best to handle copy? Should the new upside down packaging cannibalize the existing line?
Now imagine that you are in charge of doing the market research for Liquid X, except that you can log onto a site that will let you search for pieces of market research that someone else has already conducted on upside down packaging. You might be able to see right away that height is a limiting factor, for example, or that there is a particular consumer segment who just won’t buy anything upside down-ish. You would not be looking at full market reports – only discrete bits of them that you can use to jump start your research, to narrow the parameters of what you need do research and save you time and money. Naturally, you might be able to find some of this information through traditional syndicated research, but that process is itself often difficult and time consuming. I’m imagining a Google-like, or perhaps Del.icio.us-like front end serving up extensible results.
There are, of course, a couple of big problems with the idea of Open Source Market Research: how would it actually work and how could you participate without giving away your competitive or trade secrets?
The first problem is actually more difficult than the second one. Thinking about open source and this system, something wikipedia-esque is top of mind. But obviously, that would require far, far too much work on the part of those who could contribute; they would have to scrub or anonymize their own data and possibly edit the format itself (e.g., extract bullets from PowerPoint slides). Perhaps a better idea would be some kind of industry or foundation operated site (perhaps also supported in part by ad revenue) to whom you could submit reports. This organization would scrub and anonymize the data, index and tag it, and provide the search engine front end. In this scenario, you might have to find a way to incentivize companies to part with their dearly bought research, perhaps by offering ads or referrals. Naturally, the hope is the inherent benefits of open source will be enough to sway doubtful IP holders.
The other – surprisingly simple – problem is competition. Simple, but with one big caveat: whomever is anonymizing and scrubbing must be trusted beyond reproach and some research might be too topical or too sensitive to share for a period of time, no matter how well anonymized and scrubbed. Competition, in general, wouldn’t be an issue with such a system, as the results are analogous to Lego building bricks rather than to someone’s fully built model. Moreover, as everyone has access to the same building bricks, competitive advantage lies in how you assemble them, not in “possessing” the bricks. This is, essentially, the ethos of the open source movement
Less abstractly, except in the case of highly proprietary processes or data, you can argue that increasing overall awareness of different types and outputs of market research will increase demand for market research. A system like this one would effectively grow the pot for everyone involved in MR.
Finally, one far-off but potentially interesting benefit from open source market research would be in allowing average Joe or Jane market researchers to construct their own MR meta studies a la the healthcare industry to gauge the effectiveness of their own MR initiatives and processes.