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Back to Marketing Basics: Market Research in the Digital Age

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Back to Marketing Basics: Market Research in the Digital Age image SocialResearch1000Market research guides your marketing strategy and should underpin everything you do as a business. As businesses march ever more relentlessly toward improved metrics, market research should be the first arrow you pull from your quiver. Yet, many of the same managers demanding better metrics fail to grasp the importance of market research.

Why firms resist market research?

Doing good market research is really HARD and too many businesses do it WRONG. Because their market research efforts didn’t give them the right answer, managers become convinced that the failure is the fault of market research rather than a failure of the people who DID the market research.

Here are some other excuses firms use to avoid doing market research:

  1. Survey data is inaccurate
  2. Market research takes too much time and cost too much money
  3. Our internal data, such as sales data, tells us everything we need to know about what customers want
  4. I can’t wait to get better data or I’ll lose momentum (or lose the opportunity)
  5. Plenty of 3rd party data is available
  6. Consumers don’t really know what they want anyway
  7. I don’t know how to do market research

Working in market research, marketing strategy, and branding for over 30 years, I’ve heard every excuse in the book — at least a few times. You’ll even hear marketing folks, including some pretty high-powered marketing academics, say that consumers don’t know what they want, can’t express their needs in a cogent manner, and what they say has little to do with how they really feel. These folks prefer to observe what consumers do and make assumptions about why they did that.

Of course, behavior isn’t always a good predictor of future behavior. And, understanding the underlying attitudes that guide behavior is a much better predictor of future behavior. That’s why predictive analytics (models built by understanding the why’s behind behavior) nearly ALWAYS outperform descriptive models (models that merely describe behavior).

How digital communication makes market research better.

Digital communication makes market research MUCH better. Digital communication helps firms overcome most of their excuses for not doing market research.

Here are some ways digital communication makes market research better:

  1. It’s more accurate – Survey data can be inaccurate, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. Issues such as insufficient sample size, poor question wording, inattention to data validity, and other issues create problems and lead to inaccurate results from your market research. Listening in social media overcomes many of these problems — if done correctly. Social media listening allows the market researcher to enter the living rooms, coffee shops, and sit around the dining tables of consumers to hear what they’re talking about. Rich data collected from social media listening, if interpreted properly, gives firms a very clear picture of the consumer, what’s important to him/her, how they make product decisions, and who influences those decisions.
  2. Digital communication is ubiquitous, so collecting data is fast. If necessary, a client can contact me in the morning and I’ll have data ready by the evening. Analysis takes a little longer, but you get the idea. I can give you predictive insights within a week. (Of course, this type of service doesn’t come cheap).
  3. Almost any well-constructed market research is better than using descriptive analytics from internal sales data to make assumptions about future behavior. This goes for 3rd party data, as well. That’s because consumers are fickle and change over time. They’re not dependable either and even satisfied customers stray in search of product variety.
  4. Customer DO know what they want. The problem is their decisions require a balance between different wants. Balancing these wants against available resource (time, money) requires complex heuristics that require fairly sophisticated market research to uncover.

Market research failure

Market research failure, regardless of the excuses, is really a function of not knowing what you’re doing. Market research seems tantalizingly simple. You ask some questions, add up the answers, and, viola, you know your consumer.

Unfortunately, reality isn’t that simple. And, taking a market research class in college isn’t going to help you much. That’s why some schools now offer a masters in market research (which is a much better options than getting an MBA for those with a marketing undergrad). Market research is REALLY complex and requires much more than a single course.

Good market research also requires experience doing market research, not just studying market research. And, a good market researcher should be able to handle both qualitative and quantitative market research because different types of problems require different solutions.

Need help?

We feel your pain and we’re here for you. Whether you need social media listening, qualitative market research, or quantitative market research, we have the skills to get you the answers you need. Just contact us to learn how we can help.

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