By Allan Fromen
People sometimes ask me whether my doctorate in Psychology has helped me in the field of market research. I usually answer in the affirmative, saying how the principles of psychology, research methodology, and advanced statistics, are all highly relevant to market research.
However, I now realize another aspect of my education that has helped me far more than I ever realized. Our program director used to have us pick a topic, and then summarize 20 journal articles, detailing the findings, the relevance to the broader literature, as well as the strengths and weaknesses in the methodology. At the end of these 20 articles, we had to clearly summarize it all, and state how the research should evolve to best move the science forward. Essentially we had to boil down a massive amount of literature into a coherent story and look into our crystal ball to indicate where the research might go next.
Sound familiar? This is precisely what we do in the field of market research. We have to tell a story out of disparate data points. If we limit our insights to only a single study, well, that is a fairly narrow perspective – akin to reading only one chapter of a book. When we triangulate our understanding from multiple sources – data from multiple market research studies, for example – now that is a much more compelling story.
A related point, and one also informed by my education, is that there is no single “best” methodology. Different approaches to research have their benefits and limitations, and the specific method should be selected based on the nuances of the research question.
Now I realize that is an obvious conclusion, but it is one I fear is getting lost in so many conversations. Many in the market research industry are writing about the death of traditional research methods, and how newer approaches (mobile, social, communities, etc.) will soon overwhelm us like a great flood smashing through the levies. To this I say, hogwash. Newer research approaches will coexist side-by-side with the more traditional ones, and we should choose the methodology that is best suited to our objectives.
To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If someone is espousing the benefits on social media listening (for example), see if they have a vested interested in that type of research. More often than not, I would bet that they do. I am grateful that I can be methodology agnostic, so my clients know I will do what is in their best interest, not mine.
I think these two points, triangulation and methodology agnosticism, are encapsulated in the infographic below. First, in honor of my psychology director (a shout out to Roya Ayman, who inspires so many students), the story is an amalgam of four differ studies. No one study on its own would have identified The Smart(Phone) Shopper. But together, they paint a picture that tells a clear story.
Also, we combine a diary study, a mobile survey, mobile behavioral data, and a traditional online survey. Each approach has its place, and no one methodology would have been sufficient. They are all aligned to the objectives of the particular study, and as such, uniquely inform each chapter, so we can better understand the full story.
In our rush to embrace the shiny new methodology, or to write attention grabbing headlines, we sometimes forget the basics. Good research is founded in objective, critical thinking that can inform our perspective and lead to actionable insights. My dear director Roya would expect no less.