Unclouding Judgment with Market Research

Simi Dhawan, in her first Thursday Night Insight, puts forward an impassioned explanation as to why our passion for a subject may, on occasion, cloud our judgment.

“Dispassionate objectivity is itself a passion, for the real and for the truth.”
– Abraham Maslow

To feel strongly or passionately about any given object is potentially either a wonderful advantage or a huge risk. Whilst ‘passion’ can act as the most powerful catalyst in driving something forward, the subjectivity or ‘clouded’ judgment it can bring may also enable it to disallow progress by holding that very same thing back. An easy example would be the ‘mollycoddling’ of a mother over her precious child who now grown up and equipped with the knowledge and skills to embark on life independently, is eager to do so, but meets emotional resistance by the mother that nurtured their ability to progress into adulthood in the first place.

By the same token, the relationship of any business owner with his or her business is one which inevitably meets the bias rooted in their subjective responsibility to run that business. That responsibility carries with it many ‘attachments’, from a desire to succeed to a hunger for both the professional kudos and financial gain that such success carries with it. Naturally, with such demands we place on ourselves alongside time being of the essence (decision-makers often work to tight deadlines and seldom have enough hours in the day), there is born an almost irrational urgency to seek an answer to the quandary of business decisions that need to be made…..or that needed to be made yesterday! Regrettably, the very fact that we are human and so are restricted in our ability to answer every question gets temporarily omitted from our minds and in therefore drawing inferences based on previous experiences or just sheer logic, inaccurate assumptions are sometimes concluded. For instance, a business owner may develop skewed perceptions of a particular market because of their subjective desire to penetrate that market or because of previous experiences within that market. By inadvertently allowing this to happen, they might also fail to wholly acknowledge the fact that it is always changing and growing.

The latter example is one I draw from a recent client meeting. Whilst at the early stages of designing a questionnaire for a pricing research project, our client wanted to exclude the option of ‘competitive price’ when asking prospective customers what they would want from their supplier. This suggestion was founded upon their assumption that a majority of respondents would be drawn to price as a primary factor thus diluting the importance of other possible factors such as ‘reliable delivery’ and ‘product quality’. Whilst there is undoubted logic and valid reasoning behind this request, our experience of previous research projects during the year actually suggested the opposite. Although price is one of a number of factors for consideration, ultimately, the nature of any business and their specific – even unique – business needs determine what is important and in what order. For example, the large-scale engineering company who need consistent, reliable and fast turnaround from their welding gas supplier whilst situated in an awkward geographical location may not be too primarily concerned with price. On the contrary, for a clothing retail chain wanting to sell their items at the highest profit margins, the best price at which they can buy textiles and produce those items may be essential.

For our aforementioned client, the importance of price factors was understandably magnified due to their own objectives in conducting research in the first place, namely, to determine optimum pricing levels for their product within their chosen market. Whilst we know this was their principal concern, the subsequent issue raised is whether this internal goal was one then overgeneralised as being equally of concern to the external market environment they were seeking to infiltrate. In theory, an undisputable fact is that this could have been the case, but the intervening lesson to be drawn from this is that since the contrary could also have been true here, in research we should always be mindful of making premature assumptions, ahead of the more substantive findings we seek to unveil in practice.

As a researcher, you are often in a position whereby you attempt to make sense of the data you have in front of you by looking through a window of trends or patterns in the context of what they actually reveal about any given sector. Whilst you are not completely void of the usual shortcomings of being human (sadly, none of us has infinite knowledge), you hold a valuable position in that whilst you can professionally empathise or understand any business goal residing at the hub of any research project, you can both implement and review the findings within a more ‘objective’ framework, and the power which this very objectivity brings should not be understated.

Whilst you work collaboratively with the client to remuneratively fulfill these objectives when commissioning research, the very stance of working from the outside ‘looking in’ at any issue, offers you the theoretical autonomy necessary to abstain from pulling out or interpreting such findings as would satisfy your business goals in the next few years or even the underpinning value system upon which any business framework is built. This, in turn, increases the preferable likelihood to piece together the ‘real picture’ so to speak, from which your client can base pragmatic decisions. Add to that the fact that you have the invaluable resource of up-to-date knowledge and information collated from constantly researching various markets, products and services to assist in your interpretation of these findings and you start to realise that your role has enviable advantages suited to any specific business marketing dilemma. In keeping momentum with this holding our industry on a pedestal (!), in essence, the role we play could be likened to that of a High Court Judge who, on weighing up various pieces of information, is able to objectively reach a plausible conclusion based on the subjective views and opinions of those they gather the information from.

I may be at risk of digression. Whilst I, of course, draw upon the above comparison loosely (and do in no way imply that any of our existing or potential sponsors are hypothetical convicts!), as our slogan – market research with intelligence – suggests, within B2B International we do pride ourselves on having the professional astuteness to convert data into intelligence. Whilst the foundation of good research is balanced between strong interviewing techniques and accurate reporting, it is ultimately about interpreting and communicating the findings of this research to our clients effectively so that they can achieve their goals and better meet the needs of their market. By elimination of adverse factors such as bias (of which there are many other examples open to discussion) and by maximising on the resources and skills available to us, the potential to meet any such objective is consequently better realised………..

………unless my ‘opinion’ on this subject is itself open to bias? I will, of course, allow you, my objective audience, to conclude this since you are – as implied here, better placed to do so.

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