What I Hate About Market Research…

… is when the research stifles common sense and kills discussion. And I think that happens a lot. For example:analysis

  • Say you did a focus group on packaging colors. The focus group liked the green package, but what you don’t know is that the group was overly influenced by one charismatic person who liked green that day. It didn’t reflect the whole population. But now you’re stuck with green, regardless of what’s really right. And nobody in your group is going to be comfortable suggesting red or blue. After all, the research is done, and the answer is green.
  • You did a customer survey, asking people whether they liked your idea and what they would pay for a subscription. The truth behind the scenes is that the survey went out wrong to a list of people already biased in favor, and since they knew about you and liked you, they overestimated their willingness to pay. So you build the business and launch, and discover, way too late, that people in the real world, spending real money, won’t pay what the people in the survey said they would. And nobody on your team can question the advisability or the pricing “because we did the research.”

So it isn’t that I don’t want information. It’s a matter of information that takes on more certainty than warranted. I like research to be there, used, considered, but taken with healthy skepticism. If it doesn’t seem right, it might not be. Whether you call it research or not.

Does that make sense?

(Image: Adam Radosavljevic/Shutterstock)


  • David Worrell says:

    My favorite is the “market research” question that contains the answer you want to hear. “Mr Prospect, would you pay $1 for a product that washed the dishes, mowed the grass, and guaranteed you’d win the lottery?”

    And right behind that is the problem of “framing” — especially price. If you start asking “Would you pay $1” and go up in price, then by the time you get to “$3”, the respondent already feels like he’s paying too much. If you start with $100 and go down in price, you’ll find the same people think that $50 is a bargain!

    Happens to us all the time. The only good market research is observing how people already do what they do and trying to figure out why. Proposing a solution almost always kills the objectivity.

  • Ivan Walsh says:

    Hi Tim,

    When I worked in Asis, they would do v little research, eg focus groups etc, and just launch.

    And those that survived we’re refined and then relaunched again.

    Survival of the fittest approach…


  • Alan Palmer says:

    The only thing worse than no research is bad research.
    Your examples show poor research planning and methodology.

    In your focus group example an experienced focus group mediator would have been able to reduce the influence of the personality that liked green and led the group through discussion about the other colours. A focus group is meant to be supplemental research to explore results already found in broader market research.

    As for the customer survey that went out to the wrong people, that means the research is flawed, invalid and should not be used.

    Your examples seem to be based around people going through the motions of conducting research but not being smart about it. In these cases the data collected is about as useful as “common sense” or a guess in decision making.

    • Tim Berry says:

      Alan, yes, … bad research is worse than no research. Exactly my point.

      I suspect from your comment that you think bad research is rare. My take is after several years as a VP in a market research firm, and a lot more years reading a hundred or so business plans every year as frequent judge in business plan contests and, for the last three years, a member of an angel investor group. And I see 10 examples of flawed research for every one that seems, on the surface at least, to be valid.

  • Amy Tobin says:

    Makes All kinds of sense. ROI is as overused as LOL.

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