Myth.ology and Market Research

January 6, 2011

Tales of the Market Research Monster - Should Clients be Frightened? (Image via Wikipedia)

Our recent post on the “Myth of Market Research’s Failure” attracted a lot of readers, and recently a stern rebuttal (see comments at bottom of the post) from Philip Graves who is the author of a book called “Consumer.ology” (not to be confused with Martin Lindstrom’s similarly titled tome, “buy.ology”). Sub-titled “The Market Research Myth, The Truth about Consumers and the Psychology of Shopping” according to an unnamed reviewer on Mr Graves’ website the book “will send a shiver down the spine of the research industry”. Given that, it is not surprising he did not like our post!

Published last September, I confess I have not yet read his book, but it has got a “top 10” spot in the UK business books list on Amazon, and Philip seems to have been interviewed extensively including by magazines like “Wired” and even “Research Live”. It is then seemingly indicative of the trend towards wholesale lambasting of market research methods that we discussed in our post. The core argument as far as we can see is that surveys address the wrong side of the brain (i.e. miss emotive/intuitive response) and our qualitative methods are subject to bias and group think.

The great thing about this kind of attack is that it draws attention to the need for research to be more serious about providing better quality information to clients. The downside is that they tend to work by creating a “straw man” version of market research, in which out-dated and poor practices are treated as the norm and used as an excuse to belittle the whole industry.

Our view, stated simply, is that it is often perfectly possible to design fairly conventional research that can measure a good deal of underlying emotional or subconscious response and that where that is not possible with traditional methods there are a number of ways many of the “new MR” methods that are emerging can be applied to fill in the gaps. Clients or agencies who are dissatisfied with the quality delivered by their research deliverables should consider what can be done to improve them, rather than giving up on market research entirely. (As a disclaimer, we should mention that Gordon & McCallum provides clients with review and R&D support to improve MR systems and outputs – so we would believe that!)

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