I used to do a lot more market research for people. These days I’m doing it less often. I think it’s because I’ve become disillusioned about its value. Things like focus groups are actually quite lucrative but I find it harder and harder to convince myself that they offer value to the client. I often experience a big gap between the idealised recommendations of research on the one hand, and actual execution by the client on the other.
Somehow, the process of research gets in the way of forming effective customer relationships. Instead of hearing from customers direct, clients get them mediated by a researcher. Then they talk to customers via another mediator (ad agency, pr firm etc).
These mediators naturally want to supersize their role. So the researchers offer (they claim) ever deeper and more profound consumer insights, nowadays including mindprobing gizmos; and the communicators provide ever more elaborate and clever communications models. The researchers are often called on to measure the communicators’ models, but they may not be very objective. Because the researchers and the admen have a shared financial interest in presenting communication as complicated – and therefore deserving of their expensive expertise.
And here I am probably cutting my own financial throat by saying, hey, is this such a good idea?
What do I propose?
I have no universal solution. But for many part of the answer is to go for much simpler but more active research. I haven’t tried but I am intrigued by the offering of yourfocusgroup.com (found on a tip from Jennifer Rice.) This appears to be a dead cheap ($500 a year) way of getting quick consumer feedback. It may not be perfect, but for 500 bucks it may be less of risk than that $50,000 in-depth proposal you were thinking about.
I also think it would be good for some marketing departments to take a sabbatical from talking to agencies and seek more direct relationships with customers. Oh, it may not be very scientific but engaging relationships are energising in a way second-hand relationships can’t match. And since there’s this concern about the Knowing Doing Gap these days, that is probably a good thing to have more of.
In part, I’m arguing for a view that says the world is so complex, it’s better to learn by doing than to get lost in hypothesis and over-analysis.
The kinds of research and advertising I’m challenging think the world is complicated – that if studied in minute enough detail, it will confess a deep truth to you (yet not, of course, to your competitors who are buying the same schtick from their agencies…) (I blogged more on this complex/complicated distinction here.)