A wise but anonymous marketer once said that a market research report that gets described as "interesting" has failed. It's only when it's "useful" that it gets the pass mark. After all, what's the point of interesting research if it can't be put to use?

The sad truth is that most market research is not very useful and more often than not ends up as a door stop for the marketing manager's office. Not to mention that large-scale research with qual and quant phases is damned expensive.

It's also easy to forget the hassle it puts customers through. Rarely does the committed customer who responds to the survey ever hear anything back or see any tangible differences. No matter how loyal they are, next time they're likely to say no when a researcher comes knocking/ringing/emailing.

We put poor usefulness down to two factors:

  1. Poor explanation: Survey research doesn't explain much, but to be actionable the research must explain why things are happening.
  2. "Dragnetting": This is where the users of the research are part of the problem. Too little work is done before and after the research to get ducks in a row to ensure something gets done. The common dragnetting attitude is "let's do some research, see what it tells us, and then decide what to do." In other words, fuzzy prep leads to fuzzy results.

Poor Explanation

So often, companies find that market research results do not align with frontline reality and financial results. Sampling error, poor response rates, and poor questionnaire design combine to provide results that may fluctuate wildly and leave the customer with no understanding or explanation for why.

With no explanation for their results, the hapless research company is left floundering, trying to justify itself and its results. Survey results get "taken with a grain of salt" by managers (that is, just accept the results that suit you and ignore those that don't).

Despite this, many companies are addicted to expensive large-scale sample surveys, valiantly trying to use the results to measure the success of their efforts and to guide decision-making.

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Reg Price is coauthor of the book on the emerging discipline of Promises Management titled Building Dependability Inc., published by Racom Books. He can be contacted at reg.price@managepromises.com;
Neil, a relationship and customer experience research consultant, is principal of SRD Group (Neil.S@srd-grp.com).
Katie is head of strategy and projects, Institutional and Corporate & Commercial Banking, at a major bank in Asia/Pacific.