The Myth of Market Research’s Failure.

November 23, 2010
Head in Hands

Time To Get Over It - It's NOT that Bad! (Image by Alex E. Proimos via Flickr)

I am getting increasingly angry about the number of posts, books, You Tube Videos and articles – often by market researchers themselves – that imply “conventional Market Research” is a failure.

Here’s a good example, ‘futurist’ Patrick Dixon talking about why market research is “often wrong”: http://tinyurl.com/25kp34z .

These sorts of pronouncements tend to have several things in common:

  • Flashy style and grand pronouncements rather than reasoned argument,
  • Reliance on anecdote or case study (in Dixon’s case it’s his mother),
  • Lack of examples on the other side of the argument (when MR got it right),
  • A (false) assumption that the raison d’etre of MR is predicting “big” changes,
  • Failure to acknowledge that methods other than MR are not all that flash at predicting big changes or seismic shifts in behaviour either,
  • An assertion that “traditional MR” misses out on some extraordinarily key factor in understanding consumers, be it an inability to capture emotion, or failure to understand the role of Social Media or whatever uber-trend the author is fascinated by.

Let me counter this hyperbolic dismissal of the value of our traditional approaches with an equally strong counter claim. I strongly believe that good experienced, senior researchers can – in most markets – answer 70% of the key marketing questions of 70% of major research clients by means of a research programme consisting of not more than a few focus groups, a reasonable sized survey and access to some sales, retail or media trend data. There is an “if” of course – and this is sometimes a big if – they need to allocate enough time and thought to carefully design the study and analyse the results. This does not mean I am not a believer in many of the new MR methods, particularly some of the new neuroscience, customer panel and online qualitative approaches — let us ‘seniors’ incorporate some of those into the research programme and my success estimate goes up to 80 or 90%!   The core point I want to make though is that any systemic “failure” of market research is a failure to apply brainpower and thinking time – not primarily a failure of techniques. Read the rest of this entry »