Bad Marketing Research Could Be Worse than No Research At All

Written by: Phillip Nones

Lightning-rod terms that have entered the lexicon in recent years include “fake news” and “alternative facts.”  It’s hardly surprising, seeing as how low barriers to entry in the news industry have make it so easy to gain a platform at little or no cost, thanks to the Internet.

It’s the same thing with market research, where the barriers to entry were once pretty steep.  But today, “cheap and dirty” online research can be done at very little cost.

So now we have an explosion of online snap polls, website pop-up surveys, and similar fare where the value of the findings is questionable at best – and worthless at worst.

Forewarned is forearmed.  Marketers need to be careful about how they consume findings gathered using such research tactics – and how they apply them (or not) to running their businesses.

To weigh whether the research results you’re your seeing are worth their salt, ask yourself these four key questions:

  • Is the research generalizable?  Survey research that uses random sampling allows you to “generalize” the results to the larger population – whether that be the consumer population, an industry niche, or some other market segment.

Examine the research methodology to determine if factors like sample size (the larger the better) and the response rate (the higher the better) are strong – or a possible cause for concern.  And if there is no survey methodology reported, that’s a big warning flag.

  • Is the research unbiased?  Too often, survey questions are crafted in ways that subtly bias the responses.  Such “loaded” or “leading” questions can provide false positives or negatives that could result in drawing improper conclusions and making poor company decisions as a result.  Good questionnaire wording should be free from even the slightest “feather on the scale.”
  • Consider how the survey was distributed.  “Anonymous” or confidential surveys are more likely to result in the least biased responses.  Also, pay attention to who conducted the survey.  Results gathered via third-party researcher are usually a better bet than a survey conducted by one of the companies or organizations being evaluated as part of the research.
  • Is the research “explained”?  Quality research is transparent about things like research sponsorship or funding sources, as well as the manner in which the data was collected.  You should be able to ascertain the “who/what/where/when/why” of the research endeavor very easily.  If not, it’s another big warning flag.

One other thing:  The above factors apply as much to conducting your own research as they do to applying the research results published by others.  Carefully weigh all of the factors.  After all, the goal should be to find out the “true facts” from your marketplace – not to confirm the preconceived biases of the head of one of your business units or product management teams.

In the end, no company benefits from “fake” research.  If you fall into the trap of dealing with fiction rather than fact, the truth always catches up eventually.  And when that happens, you don’t want to be the person on the receiving end of the fusillade.

For more tips and guidance on conducting and consuming quality market research, our team is always ready to help.  Call 800-457-1099.

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