Regrettably, I was not at all surprised by Dianne's editorial note 'Just too much rubbish research? 18 Feb 2010'. I immediately felt compelled to add my two cents worth to the debate, as the challenges it poses for the marketing community are not new.
I propose that there can never be a "Gold Standard" in defining marketing research results. Unlike our esteemed colleagues in the scientific fields, we seldom deal in facts - we deal with, and measure, perception.
Naturally, there are exceptions to this rule which are predominantly linked to reports based on hard data - for example, retail sales data or consumer behavioural metrics that are recorded by service providers. Yet even those are often imperfect measures due to various methodological constraints. However, when we move beyond these cold facts and engage with people to understand and influence their behaviours, we enter the realm of relative truths.
In a world dominated by relativism, perception and beliefs have become the new facts. And, depending on the market, those perceptions and beliefs are changing by the minute. This is driven in part by the massive increase in our interconnectivity facilitated by social media, but also by the sheer amount of information that modern consumers are able to access at any given point in time.
So if we are predominantly dealing with perception, what are the implications for marketers and the way in which they utilise research? While I don't have all the answers, here are a couple of points worth considering.
Firstly, I believe that it is extremely important to put research into context - clearly stating what a survey sets out to achieve and using the information for the intended purpose. Too often we find statistics and consumer comments taken out of context and used to defend a particular agenda. As Mark Twain so aptly put it: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics."
Secondly, we should start encouraging the use of multiple sources of information when formulating strategic insights, rather than relying on any one survey as gospel truth. All research methodologies have constraints, and analysis will always be framed by the context and experience of the "expert" delivering the results. The more we engage with multiple sources, the easier it becomes to differentiate between the good and the bad.
Lastly, marketers need to become better acquainted with their markets in an intimate and authentic manner. If you are going to view your customers from the comfort of your desk and rely solely upon market research for insight, then you are not going to be able to discern fact from fiction. Insight is born out of experience, observation and knowledge.
In closing, I suggest that we look to developing the broader marketing community's understanding of research - how to judge it, and how to bridge the gap between information and what it means for our brands and businesses...perhaps a Gold Standard for the use and interpretation of market research?
To continue this debate, why not speak to us - we'd love to hear your opinions.
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