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Market Research Is Like… A Collection Of Some Of The Best Market Research Analogies



By Isaiah Adams

Have you ever had someone try to explain something to you that didn’t make sense no matter how many times they explain it? Now, how many times has the “light bulb” turned on once they shared a good analogy with you? Analogies are a powerful way to explain complex ideas. Researchers and Marketers have long struggled over the communication of research methodologies and strategy. Marketers have a hard time understanding “Research-ese”. One of the best ways to bridge that gap is by using analogies. Below are some of the best marketing research analogies, shared by some of the brightest minds in marketing research.

A Strong Foundation

Using an analogy of a house foundation, marketing research can be viewed as the foundation of marketing. Similar to how a well-built house needs a strong foundation to remain sturdy, marketing decisions require the support of research in order to be perceived favorably by customers and to stand up to competition and other external pressures. Therefore, all areas of marketing and all marketing decisions should be supported with some level of research.

Application of Market Research

Some use research as the drunkard uses the lamppost, for support rather than for illumination.

– David Ogilvy

Marketing Research is like panning for gold. You must sift through the dirt in order to identify the golden opportunities.

-Heather Hinman – Salford Systems (@SalfordSystems)

Starting a business without doing market research is like stepping out onto a tightrope without bothering to check the tightness of the knots that are holding the rope in place. You’re halfway across when the knots loosen, the rope wobbles; you lose your balance, and fall to the ground with a splat.

The problem is they’re afraid their market research will tell them what they don’t want to know, that their big idea – their baby – ain’t so cute after all. They fall victim to what I call “Ugly Baby Syndrome.”

It’s a tough pill to swallow when market research tells you that your baby is about as attractive to the buying public as the south-end of a north-bound mule.

Tim Knox – entrepreneur, author, speaker, and radio host (@timknox)

Marketing Research is like having a root canal. No one wants to do it, but it is absolutely necessary. You’ll be glad you did it in the end.

-Heather Hinman – Salford Systems (@SalfordSystems)

 Importance of Quality Research

“Doing good research makes you like a one eyed man in the land of the blind.” and its corollary: “Doing bad research is like sticking a lawn dart in your eye.”

-Mark Moody


Outliers – the folk at the back of the hall who know something and you don’t want to listen to them.

-Dr. Brian Monger (@SmartaMarketing)

Stimulus-Response Measurement

A comedian does not simply walk on stage and say “I’m a really funny person.” They continually measure the crowd reaction as they alter different ways of delivering a joke. They may change how the punch line is delivered, the length of the pause before the punch-line, etc. By testing various ways of telling the same joke, the comedian is able to identify the best way to tell the joke.

Conjoint Analysis Methodology – Booking a flight

Every day we make a series of choices (or trade-offs). There are usually many elements involved in each choice and we typically don’t take the time to weigh-out each element in our decision process. We just choose.

To illustrate how we make trade-off’s in purchasing decisions, think of when you book a flight.  You don’t pick just the cheapest flight, you also consider the time, number of layovers, frequent flyer miles, baggage fees, etc.  The idea is that traditional surveys ask people rational questions to which they give rational responses (i.e., What factor is most important in choosing an airline? – most people would answer price).  However, purchasing decisions are far more complex and irrational. When you book a flight, you choose the flight that best fits your desires. By analyzing a series of choices during a conjoint exercise, the individual importance of each element is derived.

Conjoint Analysis Structure- Doughnuts

I like to think of Conjoint Analysis as a “doughnut shop”. The features (attributes) of a doughnut shop are the things it uses to make and sell doughnuts; such as ingredients, flavors, pricing, and time of day to sell.

A feature at the doughnut shop (e.g. Flavor) can be broken down into levels (e.g. powdered sugar, chocolate, cinnamon sugar, plain, or maple.)

VP of Client Services at Survey Analytics – Esther LaVielle (@surveyanalytics)

MaxDiff and Food

MaxDiff is like a refrigerator full of food. There’s one thing in the refrigerator you love the most and can’t get enough of, and there’s one thing you wouldn’t touch with a three-foot pole.  For my husband he loves cold beer the best from the fridge and can’t stand my smelly homemade kimchi in a jar.

-VP of Client Services at Survey Analytics – Esther LaVielle (@surveyanalytics)

Market Research – The Football Coach

The modern marketing researcher is the football coach: providing each of the team’s players with the right level of intel at the right time, before, during and after the match; so that all players can focus on what they’re hired to do: winning the game!

-Hans Lingeman- CEO / Partner at Winkle (@hanslingeman)

Crowdsourcing: Difference between closed and open innovation

Imagine that you are planning a big surprise party. You want it to be entertaining, spectacular, memorable and different. You could plan and project manage every element of the party yourself: the theme, venue, music, food, drink, entertainment, games, diversions etc. Or you could involve a number of people to help you with their ideas and their skills. One person could manage all aspects of the venue, someone else could design special decorations, another person could put together a music mix and so on.

If you do it all yourself then you are in complete control, you have sole responsibility and you can keep the whole thing a surprise but you have to remember to do everything and it is only as good as your ideas. If you bring in a group of friends and experts to help then you can harness their imaginations; you can bounce ideas off each other. You have to delegate tasks which involve collaboration, supervision, letting go and an element of risk. Keeping the whole thing a surprise is more difficult but can be done. The choice between doing it all yourself and doing it with a group is the choice between a closed and an open model.

-Paul Sloane – Inexorable Rise of Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing

Focus Group Facilitator (Moderator)

“To use the analogy of exploration, the facilitator is not so much the expedition leader; rather, a combination of navigator and cartographer, ensuring that the group heads in the right direction but happy to investigate new paths if relevant to the purpose of the expedition”

Bob Gates and Mary Waight (2007:113 – Focus Group Methodology: Principal and Practice)

Data Mining

Finding the proverbial needle in the haystack.

Data Mining: The danger of the model “over-fitting”

“Say you are at the tailor’s, who will be sewing an expensive suit (or dress) for you. The tailor takes your measurements and asks whether you’d like the suit to fit you exactly, or whether there should be some “wiggle room”. What would you choose?

The answer is, “it depends how you plan to use the suit”. If you are getting married in a few days, then probably a close fit is desirable. In contrast, if you plan to wear the suit to work throughout the next few years, you’d most likely want some “wiggle room”… The latter case is similar to prediction, where you want to make sure to accommodate new records (your body’s measurements during the next few years) that are not exactly identical to the current data. Hence, you want to avoid over-fitting.”

Galit Shmueli

How product innovations actually spread through a market

The chance that an individual tree will be consumed in a fire depends upon neighboring trees, how many of them burn, how long the tree is exposed to high temperatures, and if the tree is isolated without nearby burning trees to provide a source of ignition. In dense forests, most trees will burn, but in sparse forests, few trees will burn.

Translated into marketing insights, if potential customers are surrounded by people who have adopted a product innovation, and if this adoption is repeatedly brought to their attention, it’s likely they will also adopt the innovation. Multiplied over an entire market, this innovation will be a success. But if the reverse conditions prevail, the innovation will not reach a level of acceptance necessary to remain in production. It will fail.

Robert Winsor – (1995). Marketing Under Conditions of Chaos – Percolation Metaphors and Models. Journal of Business Research, 34 (1995), pp. 181-189.

Optimal Marketing-Mix

An optimized marketing mix is like a recipe for chocolate cake.  You can take a few basic ingredients (flour, eggs, milk) and mix them in one set of proportions – add some flavoring – put it in the oven and you get chocolate cake.  Take the same ingredients and mix them another way – put them in a fry pan, and you get pancakes.    There is no “one answer” – the recipe depends on what you’re trying to do.

-Jeff Ewald – CEO at Optimization Group

What are some you your favorite marketing research analogies?


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4 responses to “Market Research Is Like… A Collection Of Some Of The Best Market Research Analogies

    Presenting research conclusions to clients is often like delivering the news to Cleopatra, that Mark Antony had another sweetheart, or telling the king of the Moors that his citadel had fallen. How can we foil their propensity to kill the messenger? Even if the homicidal bent goes unspoken, the client often tends to choose another messenger next time.
    Alan Grabowsky, ABACO Research Brazil

  2. Market research is the only input function in marketing; all else is output. You need to learn before you do. The old medical adage is as true in business and marketing as it is in medicine: “Prescription without diagnosis equals malpractice.”

    Mitch Glasser, Glasser Research

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