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Market Research and Misplaced Bravado

Market researchers are fighting each day for a seat at the decision-making table. More and more "research professionals" are being bypassed by smart people with access to good tools, a hotly-debated topic within our community and perhaps a harbinger of what's to come in terms of when and how client- and vendor-side researchers get to contribute advice and ideas.

And yet too many researchers believe the value of market research is self-evident, and that the challenge facing our industry is really more of an obstacle caused by "everyone else." I see this train of thought emerge frequently on Twitter, or within any number of blogs and MRX-related posts.  It typically gets expressed along these lines:

Netflix screwed up. McDonald's screwed up. Coca-Cola screwed up (multiple times). If only they had done research!  A (name any large dollar amount) disaster that could have been averted with a $100,000 investment in listening to the customer. Silly companies.

Folks, it's hard to get better without humility.

Not every organization embraces traditional or formal market research. But you'd be hard-pressed to find successful ones who don't recognize the need for good information. In the short run it's comfortably distracting to romance the notion that market researchers get pushed to the sidelines while people in other departments make bad decisions. In the longer term, however, that's dangerously misleading.

Here's why.

1)      They probably did do research. Perhaps it just wasn't very good research. Maybe it was even done by some of the very people who spend time complaining about how companies don't do enough research.

What are you doing to connect back your data and insights with how things actually pan out?

2)      Most decisions will be made with a combination of formal information and "gut feel." In part that's the way it's always been, but it's also a consequence of past investments in traditional research that proved ineffective. Behavioral economists continue to demonstrate how traditional Q&A often can't tell the whole story. New approaches to qualitative and quantitative investigation continue to emerge.

Are you questioning the methodologies you use?

Are you providing your clients with enough context for when and how to apply customer feedback?

3)      In the end research can't fix everything, and it can't predict or prevent every disaster. Sometimes research won't be done. Other times research will be done but it will miss the mark.

Are you geared towards delivering projects to stakeholders?

Are you prepared to walk alongside others as they develop new products and launch new initiatives, being part of the learning and correcting process along the way?

I'm a career-long researcher and a strong believer in our profession. I know there's a vital role for traditional and emerging studies, and that there will always be value in businesses listening to the consumer.

When I hear colleagues lament the failure of others to recognize the value of market research, however, I can't help but reflect upon the social psychological notion of illusory superiority - the tendency of people to overestimate their abilities relative to those of others. Clients and vendors; researchers and non-researchers; we're all engaged in the bigger picture game of helping companies succeed. None of us hold a monopoly on that area of expertise.

Tagged in: Market Research


  • Ed Olesky
    Ed Olesky Thursday, 22 December 2011

    Great post. Research needs to have impact on decision making - and demonstrably so. For suppliers, it's difficult to get all the angles and inputs on a decision, and yes, research data is only one source. I'm not sure methodologies are going to help MR or CI get taken more seriously, frankly (BE is in my view a dangerous if sexy topic, we are in danger of uncovering all the problems with few or none of the answers...) - in my experience almost nobody at board level cares about methodology. And I'm not sure I agree with your illusory superiorty take - if anything, I think folk in research tend to be too quiet, not forceful enough, not strong enough on narratives, not strong enough on presentational and sales skills. Putting it on the line is what sales and to an extent marketing people do every day - we don't need to do that, but Actionable Insights mean we have to recommend actions based on Insights. And that means a lot more than just reading out a report, it means understanding a business context, business issues. I think we're in a great place, we just need to grab our opportunities.

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Guest Monday, 26 October 2020

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