There has been much in the press in recent years about market research losing its place in the boardroom. Most notably from Unilever who say that senior managers were unwilling to invest time attending a research debrief. According to a survey by ESOMAR most CEOs consider market research less useful than finance, marketing, information services and human resources (1). Furthermore, a BCG survey suggests that market research users appear in denial about their lack of relevance (2). Criticism is also made by major researcher suppliers (3)!
Some suggest researchers lack the ability to integrate information, fail to connect research results with business outcomes and are unable to turn complex data into clear narratives (3). Problems result from many causes. Less than robust data collection, market research analysis and strategic interpretation. This traces to research methods, analytical skills and the people involved. Concise presentations and explanations are important but not if they result in more questions than answers.
Current market research methods
Triangulation is a mainstay market research method. The idea is that when two or more methods are used in a study, confidence in the results increases. Denzin defines four basic types of triangulation. Methodological triangulation involves using multiple research methods to gather information, such as interviews, observations, and documents. Also, data triangulation which involves multiple time periods and respondents. Investigator triangulation involves multiple researchers. Finally, theory triangulation which involves using multiple analytical methods or models (4).
As qualitative research data is usually unstructured a key challenge is to manage, shape and make sense it. The most common form of qualitative data analysis is observer impression. Computers and software offer a storage place and tools to classify, sort and arrange information. However, computers and software fail to do the thinking. Identifying themes and patterns in data i.e. uncovering insight requires human skill.
And human skills and knowledge lie with the observer and analyst. While many analysts are graduates, most are career researchers and not business people. And for life stage and economic reasons, fieldwork and analysis tasks often fall to younger, less experienced staff members.
Towards more useful market research
The concept of triangulation provides a foundation on which to build. The more data collection points, the more ways a problem is looked at, the more analytical methods, the more substantial is both data collection and analysis. Bricolage is a term used to describe multiperspectival research methods. It is also a way to learn and solve problems by trying, testing and playing around. It avoids the reductionism in many single method (monological) and mimetic research approaches (5 and 6). Further, it enables more deductive reasoning (in which a conclusion is based on the concordance of multiple premises). Thus it produces more comprehensive and specific insights.
Within qualitative research, employing simple numerical scoring (or semi-quantitative) techniques also enables more rigorous analysis. For example, by asking respondents to independently select the most appealing communication idea from a gallery. Or to rate a new product or service concept on scale from ‘will definitely buy’ to ‘will definitely not buy’. Using these techniques reduce reliance on subjectivity (interpretivism) (7) and adds scientific methods to qualitative research i.e. objectivity (empiricism, positivism). This therefore ensures important differences in meaning and in relative customer appeal are discerned more readily. As a result this spotlights key issues and opportunities on which to focus. Also ‘outliers’ (8) that demand more detailed investigation.
The Manchester map for research analysis
Probing and testing for clear cause and effect relationships also ensures more robust findings and analysis. The ‘Manchester Map’ is a useful technique learned in management consulting days. This involves systematically asking and understanding ‘so what does this mean?’ or ‘why does this happen?’. It forces all information to be reviewed, delineated and linked. In this ensures clearer articulation and understanding, of causes and effects. And thus findings and implications or conclusions.
Researchers should understand core marketing and business principles. Every marketer knows that customers have needs and seek products and services that meet their needs. So to design products and services to meet those needs, research must first clarify needs and wants, and also the drivers behind those needs. Only then can product benefits be matched or created to meet those needs.
Researchers should also have a good understanding of business aims and options. The broader and deeper the knowledge of a businesses’ aims, possible business strategies, and product, brand, and marketing options, the broader and more penetrating the nature of enquiry to uncover relevant, meaningful and actionable business insights.
- Market research has a place in the boardroom – the most successful businesses are those that truly understand their customers. Market research ensures their voice is heard.
- Ensure your research works hard. This starts with writing a clear market research brief. Include your business aims not just want you want to know and seek several responses to your brief.
- Conduct due diligence. Meet the researchers who will do the work. Ask them what they know about your business. Ask them how they analyse research.
- Seek researchers who are curious, diligent, informed, and able to ask questions to get to the bottom of issues. Also, seek those understand your business – i.e. the supply side options – and marketing imperatives. Only then is it possible to truly understand causes and effects and draw meaningful conclusions, and devise practical strategic solutions.
1. Esomar Research World / ARF (2005)
2. Boston Consulting Group (2009)
3. Does Market Research Need inventing? www.InspectorInsight.com (2014)
4. Denzin, N. Sociological Methods: A Sourcebook. Aldine Transaction (2006)
5. Kincheloe, Joe. L. Berry, Kathleen, Rigour and Complexity in Educational Research (2005)
6. What is Mimetic Theory? www.woodybelangia.com
7. Interpretivism (or antipositivism) is a view that social research should not be subject to the same methods of investigation as the natural world. Gerber, John J. Macionis, Linda M. Sociology (7th Canadian ed.) page 32 (2010)
8. An ‘outlier’ or outlying observation is one that appears to deviate markedly from other members of the sample in which it occurs though this is partly a subjective exercise. Grubbs, F. E. “Procedures for detecting outlying observations in samples”, Technometrics 11 (1): 1–21 (February 1969)