Companies don't buy research...
Ask most marketing executives about market research and they will proudly point to a shelf in their office that is lined with three-ring binders. "We've done a ton of research..." they will proudly tell you. And there it sits. On a shelf. Often covered with dust. Talk to the folks down the hall about their plans for future product development and they will refer to the marketing executive - "I know we've done a lot of research...". But ask them what the research tells them and you're often met with a blank stare. Ask the new marketing executive how they intend to move forward and they'll tell you that they fully intend to review the research that's been done (pointing to the dusty binders in the bookcase) to help bring them up to speed. Ask that same person six months later and you'll probably find that their intended reading list of past research is still on their to do list.
Market research is often misunderstood. As a stand alone product, it has little more value than the actual binder and the paper contained within it. Companies don't pay good money for glossy pie charts and statistics. They don't buy research, they buy the ability to make better decisions.
You've probably heard it told that people don't buy a 1/2" drill bit, rather they are buying the ability to make a 1/2" hole. The bit is a specific means to a desirable end. Research works much the same way. It is a tool in your tool box that helps get you to a desirable end. But it is important to understand that you need different types of tools for different purposes. Just as it's impossible to drive a screw with a hammer, it's tough to predict the future with a survey of past behavior.
While there are numerous methodologies for research, it is important to note that there are two primary classes of research; foundational and situational. Both classes help people to make better decisions, but foundational research provides a directional understanding of the market or the consumer and has a longer shelf-life. It is often more expensive on the front-end, but it can provide guidance to a company on a variety of decisions across multiple functions. Situational research is very short-term focused and typically supports a single function in making a specific decision. Because of it's longer term value, foundational research should be considered an investment, whereas situational research an expense.
Foundational research should never reside in a binder in a single office. The wealth of knowledge provided should be available to everyone within the organization ensuring that good decisions are being made. It should not be tied to a specific project but rather done in support of multiple efforts. Situational research only has value until a decision is made, then it exists only in support of a project post-audit. This makes perfect sense to tie to a project. In fact a given project may have multiple situational studies performed as it goes through the development process. When companies come to this realization, the reluctance to invest in foundational research subsides. What is the cost of making bad decisions?
The next time you're considering an investment (large or small) in market research, ask yourself; "What decision(s) will this research help me to make in a more effective manner?" Then decide if it is foundational or situational and budget accordingly. Don't overpay for a quick decision, and don't skimp on a study that can provide you with direction for months or years to come. Finally, make sure that whatever the learnings are, that they are shared with everyone that can benefit.