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7 deadly sins in market research

Posted on by nanda


Common market research mistakes

7 common research mistakes

These days more people are taking a DIY approach to market research.  With many online and mobile survey tools to hand, it can be tempting to ‘have a bash’ yourself, and this can be fine for a quick straw poll or simple study where the findings are not business-critical.

Yet for a serious consumer insight study, a more professional approach is needed if you’re to avoid some classic mistakes.  Here are a few common ones, where people have thought ‘how hard can it be to ask a few questions?’ and got into hot water by not realizing how method, timing, audience and several other factors have a huge bearing on the quality of feedback.

7 things you can easily get wrong

Wrong reasons: Sometimes people think ‘we need some market research’ when in fact this isn’t the answer at all.  Some basic desk research may be all that’s needed, without resorting do undertaking an expensive study from scratch.  I was once asked to undertake research into the UK’s top 50 call centres – but a bit of digging uncovered an off-the-shelf study which answered most of the necessary questions at a fraction of what it would have cost to contact all those companies cold.

‘Wrong reasons’ also means conducting market research simply to prove a point, eg: that your new product concept is brilliant.  It’s wrong to go in with a fixed agenda – the idea is to have an open mind and obtain honest feedback, not try to make the answers fit what you want to hear.  So think about whether research is really the answer, and if you are doing it for the right reasons.

Wrong method: I’ve often seen cases where the chosen approach is all wrong, leading to poor response rates or bland, inconclusive results.  For example: asking senior business people to fill in a ‘tick box’ online survey with lots of closed questions, when what you want to know is far more complex, eg: an understanding of future needs, or their detailed critique of a new product.  In this case an in-depth qualitative approach, allowing time to listen to their concerns and issues, may be far more respectful and appropriate, yielding more insightful feedback.  Consider which method is right for your particular respondents.

Wrong timing:  It’s vital to think about when your study will actually hit, for two key reasons.  Firstly, to ensure an engaged audience – you don’t want to hassle them when they may be tied up, eg: trying to interview busy shoppers just before Christmas, or accountants at year end.  Secondly, timing can be important if it might affect the results – imagine how different the findings may be if interviewing employees straight after a round of redundancies, or conversely just after big bonuses!

Wrong audience:  OK, so it’s unlikely that you’d interview entirely the wrong people.  But a common error can be missing out a key body of opinion.  I was once asked to undertake an email survey about the customer experience of a computer helpline.  The flaw in the plan was that this would never have reached those whose PC had gone bang or whose issues had not been resolved, as they’d be unable to read the email at that point!  Yet these were the very people whose feedback would have been most useful.  So do make sure your chosen method attracts a representative range of respondents, and doesn’t exclude a vital audience.

Wrong incentive:  Participants in any study need to know what’s in it for them, ie they need some kind of incentive to give up their time.  Yet it’s surprising how often the wrong incentive is offered, or indeed not offered at all.  People often don’t mind filling in a quick pop-up survey for free, but if it’s a laborious questionnaire or lengthy appointment, this will rarely wash.  You may have to factor this into the budget, as these days it’s often necessary to offer hard cash or at least a prize draw, though for business respondents a charity donation or a summary of the findings can also be appropriate.

Also be mindful that not offering an incentive for a self-completion questionnaire or online survey can impact who takes part and in turn the results – it can tend to lead to polarized responses.  By that I mean lots of ‘Mr Delighted’ or ‘Mr Angry’ types who feel motivated to respond, as they want to tell you what’s so great or so awful, but may miss out those in the middle who can’t be bothered as they were neither thrilled nor let down.

Wrong questions:  Obviously content is king here.  A classic mistake is trying to ask too much.  Stay focused on what you really need to know, keeping other questions as extras if time permits.  Yet do ensure you ask contextual questions eg: if the respondent is married, has been in the job for long, or other relevant details which could prove useful when analysing the results.  Other common errors include leading the witness and asking questions in the wrong order.  Keep your questions open, not leading, to ensure you get an honest steer.  And structure the flow such that any delicate or personal topics are left until rapport and trust have been built, rather than jumping straight in.

Wrong researcher:  It’s tempting to think you can do all this yourself – we’re all used to asking questions, we’ve done it all our lives.  Yet there is skill in asking the right questions in the right way, teasing out interesting nuggets that someone may not want to admit, delving more deeply into a seemingly throwaway comment, or managing a group of participants when one opinionated respondent talks more than the rest.  There is also skill in interpreting the themes and patterns emerging, especially when the feedback can be copious, fragmented, or contradictory – working out what it all means for your business can be a major task in itself.

So consider when it’s fine to undertake the project in-house, and when it would be more appropriate to use a specialist.  If budget limitations preclude this, at least try to match the researcher to the audience as best you can.  For example, an inexperienced junior may be ill equipped to interview a busy CEO about the future of the sector, yet perfectly able to interview some of your customers.

Hopefully being mindful of these pitfalls will set you on the path to good market research practices and ensure you get the insights your business needs.


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