Ridiculous Research

An ancient joke has a child looking into a telescope and saying “Daddy, the universe is a very small place” to which the patient father replies “You are looking through the wrong end.”

Oddly, this describes the effect of misguided market research.

The twin goals of market research are to identify missions to take, then how to accomplish those missions. The mission may be to reduce cost, grow revenues, expand market share. But unless you know what mission you need the take, you can never know what research you need in order to accomplish that mission.

This recently came to light when the good folks at Zintro asked me to participate on a panel where selected experts explain the most common mistakes in market research. Of the two mistakes I cited, not understanding the problem to be solved was a primary ill. Some companies have offered Silicon Strategies good money to study the wrong stuff, and we routinely turn them down – it is unethical to take money from someone knowing the results will damage their company.

This problem usually arises when an executive believes, based on little aside from his own biased intuition, that he knows which problem needs solving. If profits are waning, and he firmly believes it is a marketing communications issue, he may commission a study of what the market wants to hear (which typically echoes what his company is already saying). But if sales are fading because of unexpected or unknown competitive threats, then they will continue to lose market share while studying messaging.

If you are unsure of what your mission needs to be, your initial market research should be broad. This often entails a market mapping review and analysis of what has changed in the market since the last assessment. Based on an expansive look at everything that can haunt a company’s prospects, you may then identify one or more specific topics that require detailed inspection, and which may well become missions.

Inverting this is not a shortcut, but a throat cut.

Sadly, even if a broad review is executed or narrowed research identifies specific problems, some executives will not take action on the results. Ego often interferes when market research shows that he or his team failed at some task. Alternately, he can be so wed to his notion of what are the issues to solve – what the mission should be – that he refuses to take action on what the mission really is.

Research must have a purpose, but the purpose must be properly scoped and denuded of preconception. Otherwise you waste resources that could be better spent on three martini lunches.


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