The Problem With Market Research
Market research should be a required course for everyone in business school, not just marketing students. Many decision makers across functions use it but few have a clue as to whether the information they’ve been given is valid. As a result, despite good intentions, hard work and financial cost, executives often make important decisions based on poor information.
To put this in perspective, market research is core to providing the basis for developing an annual marketing plan and adapting marketing strategies throughout the year. As result, I examine and analyze a lot of research in the course of the year. While I’m surprised at the number of articles and blog posts that don’t offer further insights beyond rehashing the basic results reported in the related press release, many market research studies have some form of bias or error built into the data.
5 Issues with most market research
As a starting point, every senior manager responsible for fielding a market research survey should ask these five questions. You shouldn’t allow the survey to be fielded until you receive sufficient answers to them.
- Is your survey group statistically valid? Are your respondents a representative group? Did you select your participants from a larger population using a random selection process? Putting a quick survey on your website doesn’t qualify. If you have trouble getting a target audience, this is a strong indicator that your research and related marketing will be challenged. In other words, if you can’t target survey participants, how will you target your marketing?
- Is your questionnaire clear and unbiased? Do your questions make underlying assumptions about respondents and their answers? Does the survey give respondents a full array of options? For example, the question shouldn’t offer only positive responses such as do you agree, somewhat agree or strongly agree because these answers don’t allow participants to disagree.
- Are the categories in your questions mutually exclusive? The goal is to ensure that all of your respondents understand the references in your questionnaire. In addition, since each additional question has an impact on whether people will respond (as well as the cost), determine whether the information it obtains will help you make your decision? For example, a former client fielded research by a top research firm that asked if the respondent was an executive assistant, secretary, administrative assistant or other. While these job titles may vary by company, this question should have been reworded to describe specific job functions to yield usable results.
- Are your answers completely exhaustive for each question? Have you covered all possible responses to your question? If not, what’s missing. Not sure, include “other” as an option and ask respondents to fill in what they mean. To help avoid this issue, have someone outside of your department or preferably your organization proof your survey. Don’t assume that your market research supplier will ensure there’re no issues.
- Is the survey information gathered in an unbiased way? If you’re fielding a live survey or a phone survey have you trained survey takers? If not, they may just fill in the forms with whatever or interpret participants’ responses based on their own leanings.
Market research requires valid, unbiased input from a statistically valid sample of participants who’ve been chosen at random. Further, questions and answers must be clear leaving no room for respondent interpretation or your results will be skewed.
Are there any other questions regarding market research you’d add to this list? Have you had any market research issues you’d like to share? If so, please include your recommendations in the comment section.
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