I read an astounding fact this week, “More Indians have used a mobile phone than a toilet”. It seemed absurd to me that a relatively new technology would outpace an old (and very useful) one. I came to realize that the absurdity was mainly due to the fact that I couldn’t imagine a world without either device and it struck me that this is an example of what ails the market research world.
The fact is that Indians have not chosen the cell phone over indoor plumbing. The former is widely available (because cell phone infrastructure is relatively easy to build) and the latter is not. So it wasn’t a choice of toilets over telcom, it was a choice of having a cell phone or not having one. Those who got the phones have begun to find uses for it that go far beyond the obvious. For example, fishermen call in while at sea to find out which port is offering the best price for their catch, thus maximizing their profits.
In Market Research we are often blinded by our experience. Instead of viewing new market research technology for its potential, we view it through the lens of what we know. When web data collection arrived, many didn’t see the opportunities it offered and instead defensively dismissed it as being inferior to existing methods and only offered the benefits of being “cheap and fast”. After more than a decade, it amazes me how many still hold this belief.