Question Yourself

Take your market research seriously … unless you didn’t take it seriously from the beginning.

bad-marketing-researchIt is relatively easy to screw-up market research because there are many ways to do so. The most careful of statistical validation calculations are meaningless if you asked New Guinea tribesmen their first class cabin cocktail preferences. The heart of research (market and marketing research included) is knowing what you need to learn, learning it correctly, then applying it appropriately.

That last one can be tough for start-ups when visionary founders resent market researchers telling them that their baby is ugly.

There is no way to exhaust the list of methods for creating lousy research, but some of my favorites include:

Not having a business purpose behind the research

My first question to executives looking for primary market research is “what is the business issue you want to resolve?” Some have not been able to answer that question at all, and others were obviously fishing for validation of their personal vision and not a real business problem or opportunity. Without a documented mission, research will deliver inappropriate answers. Ask Siri a vague question and you likely get a useless response. Same with market research.

Asking the wrong question

Even with the benefit of having a documented business mission, research can become fouled by asking the wrong question. We once helped a major pharmaceutical company with an internal processes survey of their employees. They had tried it before on their own, and had composed some questions in such a way that they were not questions tightly tied to the business problem – they asked the wrong question. Unsurprisingly they received answers that could have led them down a path to nowhere or worse since the outcome could have affected their consumer documentation.

Asking the right question to the wrong people

Among the most elegant way of generating misleading information is to ask the wrong people. Even with a clear business purpose and a great set of questions, the outcome is inane if the wrong people are queried (see our New Guinea epicureans mentioned above). For example, asking software developers for trending information on IT infrastructure will not foretell what CTOs will mandate next year. List sourcing for surveys and focus groups is hard work, and a place where many researchers deliver inaccurate results by procuring off-target lists.

Asking the right question the wrong way

Language and personal biases are amazing propaganda tools. Recognizing that words change behavior, we can see how the wrong words change research responses. Likewise, asking word-heavy questions in a survey that are better illustrated with images or videos changes how people perceive the question itself and respond accordingly. Asking a multiple choice question when a plus-or-minus rating scale shows both direction and strength limits true and instinctive responses. Researchers must neutralize language and explore all the ways to ask the question before asking it.

Asking to few questions … or too many

Life, being complicated, eliminates simple answers in many cases. Ask only one question, and you understand the market from only one perspective. Ask several questions covering a few interrelated aspects of an issue, and you can often see covariences that are more meaningful than simple percentages. But over-studying an issue, and asking to many questions, can also lead to muddled analysis and too many disjointed views. Return to your mission statement – the business issue you need to resolve – and this will help find the perfect set of questions to comfortably scope a questionnaire.


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