Research Perspective

America ranks near the bottom of the list for violent crimes in industrialized countries.

This is not the perspective most people have (though some clever folks at an overseas justice ministry discovered this with some groundbreaking multinational research). Thanks to the news media and some serious inner-city problems, Americans and the rest of the world views the U.S. as a deadly place, despite violent crime rates dropping precipitously over the past few decades.

Perception can be distorting. A lot of companies have inaccurate perceptions of themselves, and this leads to inaccurate research.

I was polled by Zintro on the most common mistakes clients make in market research. Biased perspective was my top choice for research wrecking errors. If one asks the wrong question, the answer is typically meaningless. If one has an improper perspective, they tend to ask the wrong question. Hence if an executive is viewing his market, his competitors or his company through the wrong end of a microscope, he will ask for the wrong research to be performed. Perspective shapes not only the questions he asks but the answers he receives.

Which is why so much market research becomes wastepaper.

Research should begin with a simple statement of the business goal and not the objective of the research. This removes a boatload of perspective from the start and allows exploration of what needs to be understood, not what is already misunderstood. A client once came to me asking for data on his competitors’ market position because he believed his position was lagging. After exploring his business objectives, we discovered the real problem he was trying to solve was why his customer turn-over rate was high. I talked myself out of a nice research contract, but I saved him a great deal of expense and the risk of being misguided down nonsensical paths.

Once business objectives are documented, the organization wanting market research should let the researcher frame the questions. An outsider thinking about how information describes the problem does so with little or no perception bias. Odds are the questions will not be those the customer would have asked, and often they are delightfully insightful.

Lastly, the customer and his researcher should seek insight more than data. This alone is the most difficult aspect of formulating a research project. Raw numbers are nice and often informative and tell much about the history and current state of affairs, but they do not help with proactive strategy. Insights – understanding the relationship of things and the motivations of people – does. Research that establishes distortion-free perspective brings strategic opportunities to light.

By the way, did you know that nearly eight times as many people were killed in the Rwandan genocide than in all the nuclear bombs dropped in war? Perspective can be painful, but it is necessary.


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