B2B International

September 27, 2013

This article aims to look at some of the myths surrounding the discipline of market research and set the record straight on some common misconceptions.

Market Research Is An Exact Science

There is no denying that techniques used in market research are drawn from science. There should, for example, always be a number of objectives to the project, and often also a hypothesis to be either proved or disproved. Research comprises the collection and analysis of primary data, from which results and conclusions are drawn. However, market research is very much an inexact science. Whatever the procedures put in place, 100% accuracy and reliability of data is, at best, a monumental challenge. Market researchers depend on the opinions, insights and knowledge of a sample of respondents; seldom can the views of every company or person in the target group be heard and collected – nor should they be. Even if that were a possibility, the job of market research is to piece together information from those with different insights and perspectives to gain a true, accurate picture.

Referring to market research as an “inexact science” should not, however, raise alarm bells as to its usefulness. To quote John Maynard Keynes: “it is better to be roughly right, than precisely wrong.” Market research may not be 100% ‘fact’, but its results derive from a meticulous and rigorous analysis of available information. Data that is “roughly right” does indeed allow customers of market research to move forward with confidence.

Market Research Is Unnecessary For Companies That Are Doing Well

There is many a cautionary tale of companies who have rested on their laurels. Any success is both temporary and relative, and researching the competitive landscape may well reveal that internal perceptions of success were not as robust as previously thought:

  • Strong growth today means little for the future, if a company neglects to understand or acknowledge changing industry trends, the threat of new competitors or products, or the emergence of a new route to market.
  • Long-standing customers are not necessarily synonymous with satisfied or loyal customers; they may merely show the difficulty of switching suppliers rather than how well a company is doing at delighting its customers. Research can help to distinguish between satisfaction and inertia.
  • Now, more than ever before, markets are fast-moving and increasingly competitive. Even a company with excellent customer satisfaction survey results in the past should not assume continued success. Only by assessing how well key competitors are doing in addition to itself, can a company accurately understand its true market position.

The Larger The Sample Size, The Better The Research Results

Customers of market research frequently assume that the more interviews carried out, and the more data collected, the more useful the research will be to their organization. Yet, there are a number of reasons why this may not be the case.

A clear understanding of the research project’s objectives should result in the most appropriate methodology being chosen. Sometimes, for example, a qualitative approach, or a more tightly-scoped quantitative approach, is better suited to accurately meeting the objectives. For instance, the detailed insights of half a dozen individuals in a focus group may yield much better information for a company’s product development team than 500 online survey respondents. Well-targeted research is far more useful than casting the net out wide. It is also, of course, far more cost effective too!