How to avoid marketing blunders: Market research needs more SEARCH before looking for answers

Despite access to so much research, not all data is collectable

At Newark airport, about 10 minutes before boarding recently, I was asked to fill in a written questionnaire.  The woman who recruited me was nice enough.  The ideal respondent had to speak French.  I fit the bill.  Only, the questionnaire was 8 PAGES LONG!  The questions took ages to read, much less to answer.

Why the research?

A few thoughts came of the experience that I’d like to share for marketers embarking on research:

  • Refine the objective of the survey.  Allow the survey to get to the point.  Eight pages is just farcically too long – conceptually, it sounds like an organization that didn’t really know what they were looking for.
  • Marketing should provide an explanation about the purpose of the questionnaire to the people doing the field work to help stimulate motivation — which might have helped me want to wade through the questionnaire.
  • Find the right setting for the respondents.  Is 10 minutes before embarking the right time/place?  Hardly!  There is a time and a place for everything.

This type of effort just smacks of old fashioned marketing – and bureaucratic at that.  The money and effort to put this research into place was surely highly ineffective.  And, to add more misery to woe, the nature of the questions required far too much consideration.  Ex: One single question asked: how much money did I spend on food / lodging / clothing / electronics / gifts in your journey?

What does your brand stand for?

ResearchWhat was the purpose of the questionnaire?  I will never know, as I managed to fill in just the first four pages before I was unceremoniously saved by the bell in the form of the final boarding call.  The objectives were not clear on the paper, much less to the people distributing the survey.  To the extent the brand was attempting to collect information, that is to be applauded.  However, the questionnaire is not a shortcut, especially in long form, to know what you should be doing.  The brand marketer must do some work in advance, consider who/what the brand stands for, take a position and pare down the questions to the essentials.  In short, market research needs more SEARCH and self-analysis prior to the survey. A rushed passenger at an airport gate surely doesn’t have the answer.

Market research is an investment

With all the data that is now available, marketers need absolutely to be checking, probing and researching the material.  There are so many wonderful ways to collaborate with customers in R&D, evaluate immediately the success or failure, and ask for feedback.  At the same time, a brand marketer also needs to have vision.  A customer does not always know what he/she is missing if the item never before existed.  It takes a combination of vision and daring, with a healthy dose of research, which is a valuable investment.  But, when research is executed with such a wayward/backward mindset, it is a nonsense and a waste of money, likely only to reinforce out-of-whack preconceptions at head office.

Get the right data

What is the takeaway?  There is a lot of data already out there that needs to be exploited.  If classic paper questionnaires (as opposed to online surveys) may yet have their place, they must get to the point and be carried out in a well thought-out context.  And, if the deliverers of the survey know the WHY, the chances are the efforts can be optimized.  The more you know your customer, the easier it becomes to optimize the questionnaire and to make the questions sharp and effective.  A little bit the chicken and the egg, but a mindset focused on the customer will know to create a palatable questionnaire.

Comments 6

  1. Great points, Minter. I wonder what you think of those who say that market research is a waste of time, that you can simply launch your product and await people's responses to it than asking questions from A-Z which will help you develop the right product in the first place? When the race to the fastest brand who can come up with something new is on, doing a market research may be time consuming. I hope you can enlighten me on this matter, thanks.

    1. Hi Aaron,

      I do not have the perfect answer, but one way to assess the appropriateness of doing market research is whether you are in total innovation or product improvement. In the former case, it is hard to ask the consumer about a need which has not already existed. Ironically, when the product category exists and the opportunity is to improve the offer, market research is a necessity. Secondly, the product life cycle and time to market differs by category which ways heavily on the type of research one engages. Thirdly, if the organization is set to learn from its mistakes, you can more easily "invest" in immediate launches (without research). Finally, I think there are a fantastic number of ways to involve your customers in the R&D upfront, which not only can mean reduced R&D expense, it should also mean a better chance of success and a potentially installed base of customers.

      I consider two further thoughts:
      (a) if a company's culture is truly oriented toward the customer (open avenues for feedback, ears that are prepared to listen), then the need for rigorous market research is diminished
      (b) intuition (without research) ought also to be accompanied by particular vision (cf Mr Jobs) and the wisdom (aka strength) to pull back when the "live test" doesn't work.

      What do you think about that?

      1. Thanks for the insights.. and I think that the reason to my confusion is created by reading a lot of books with opposing views on the matter of market research. Then, there's my favorite quote from Steve Jobs, ' Sell dreams, not products'. By asking your crowd/customers, it helps minimize the cost of R&D as they are the blood that keeps your business running. But, do you really have to listen to everything that's being said or simply follow your gut instincts when it comes to your product and target market? I'd love to go for the latter, only that it is a daring move. Business, after all, comes with a risk.

  2. Hey Aaron, these are indeed the quandaries of leaders.

    Rely too much on research (which won't always provide the right answer) and you can miss the market opportunity. Blow out new products from an ivory corner and things can go horribly awry. I think that a great solution is to make sure that communication is fluid within the company (including healthy debate) and with customers to gain the necessary insights. There is no harm in itself to listening to everyone. The issue is making the call.

    And, the genius of Jobs was all about filtering out the noise (complexity) and taking a bold decision (simplicity).

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