By Robert Relihan, Senior Vice President
…is that they get it so wrong. I just read another indictment of marketing research as that great stifle of creativity and innovation. Trotted out were those ever popular examples of the focus group dominator and the poorly selected sample that both lead marketers to make bad decisions. I have heard these stories so many times that I am convinced they are urban legends. I wouldn’t have been surprised if a third example in the piece had been about Chicago’s most famous ghost, Resurrection Mary, directing a media plan.
Would anyone really adopt a package design because one person in one focus group really liked it? Are business plans ever driven by a customer survey with a poorly designed sample? Well… But, this isn’t about research; it’s about bad research. It isn’t about decision making; it’s about poor decision making.
Complaints about marketing research always seem to emanate from the perfect storm of poorly designed research and uninquisitive managers. So, the next time you read someone telling you to be skeptical of research, look at the examples:
- Is there a hypothesis in the house? Not to sound hopelessly fussy, but criticism of research with examples that never seem to have hypotheses can’t be about serious research. Without hypotheses, any conclusion is possible, and no discipline is applied to decision making.
- Research never “says “what to do. Criticism of marketing research always contains some phrase like “the research said.” Research may be actionable, but it never demands action. Research provides thoughtful managers evidence from which they can draw conclusions on which action can be based.
- Analysis speaks, not consumers. These critiques of research are often couched in the terms of the consumer voice. “But, in the research consumers said…” If you wish to listen to consumers, go to a neighborhood barbeque and act upon what you hear at your peril. Good research provides the discipline and structures to help us recognize what consumers mean beneath the chaos of what they “say.” Don’t confuse listening to consumers with understanding them.
So, remember these guidelines the next time you hear someone criticize marketing research. In all likelihood, he is complaining about “bad” research, or some fantasy of bad research a million miles from reality.