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Can Market Researchers Afford to be Perfectionists?

I'm in the middle of a Linked-In debate on whether we as researchers are neglecting our methodolgical rigour at our peril, and opening ourselves to attack from all angles - the good, the bad and the plain charlatan, all of whom have wares to sell. Here's my take...


By Edward Appleton

I’ve just been reading the 120th prediction for 2012 – and blow me down, it caught my attention.

Kevin Lonnie of KL Communications (wonder how he came up with the company name 😉 said this in NGMR (

“Corporate clients will turn to new faster alternatives that can provide them with 80% confidence in a fraction of the time.”

I’m in the middle of a Linked-In debate on whether we as researchers are neglecting our methodological rigor at our peril, and opening ourselves to attack from all angles – the good, the bad and the plain charlatan, all of whom have wares to sell.

The 80/ 20 mentality that Kevin touches on isn’t one that comes naturally to us Researchers. We have to go to the nth degree of detail if someone probes into the data – robust data is the bedrock of Insights.

Will this carry on? Here’s my take:

1. The folk who use our data – Marketing, Sales, General Managers – often work on an 80/20 basis. They need to make judgement calls, where not all the data is available. Complexity reduction is often a mantra – Behavioural Economics fans take note….;)

2. The pace of change is accelerating. By the time we have the “right” answer, the competition has moved, some distribution channels have shifted on their take on own labels, cost of goods has changed pricing perspectives…..And then we come with “the answer” – which took maybe 2 months.

3. Budgetary pressures will increase in a subdued economic environment. This will lead to Marketing exploring trade-offs more aggressively in the accuracy/ cost equation – as well as pushing for quicker stuff. DIY will continue.

4. The “how” will be increasingly elbowed aside by the “now what” in MR reporting. Without wishing to denigrate efforts to address engagement of response as an issue, Actionability for MR will become an increasing mandatory.

Budgets are invariably owned by Marketers and General Managers, ultimately. If we ignore their concerns – actionability, speed, cost, flexibility to name a few – we’re in danger of becoming methodologically obsessed, talking amongst ourselves, whilst the real game shifts elsewhere.

Curious, as ever, as to others’ views.

Please share...

5 responses to “Can Market Researchers Afford to be Perfectionists?

  1. I would rather be methodologically obsesed than to be sloppy on the analytical/reporting side. If you’re the CEO, do you want to hear that we’re 80% on a multi-million dollar project? We need to stick to our guns and do it right. Yes, it may take more time… but wouldn’t you rather it be done right?

  2. Here’s some fortune cookie wisdom: Perfection is defined by our clients.

    Sometimes, our client has to know right away if changing to a northbound course, somewhere between Northeast and Northwest, is better than the course they’re on.

    Other times, they’ll have the time and need for our help in setting a more precise compass heading.

  3. In industries where populations are small and incentives high, the use of additional research methods may offer better value than increasing the sample size. One could argue that social media listening and competitive intelligence gathering offer insights that “cross-validate” and enhance survey research findings. Instead of statistical rigor, what matters in this realm is the experience and judgment applied to integrating and developing actionnable findings. Business and marketing managers in many companies understand this very well.

  4. I have to agree wholeheartedly with Edmund as my experience mirrors his. We can’t always wait for the 2-3 weeks to analysis to understand the whole picture, Marketing need the key threads and importantly direction as to what they do.
    Its not that we don’t want the 100%, it is that we don’t need it to make all our key decisions. Personally I make sure that I do receive all the output from any study. Whilst it may not be used immediately in my experience you generally go back and look at learnings from past projects quite regularly.
    I wouldn’t however want this 80% right view to be misconstrued as the ‘data’ we receive can be 80% accurate as seems to be the view amongst some suppliers.

  5. Jason makes a good point — market researchers need to be consultants who understand, and often help shape, each different kind of decision their clients have to make at different times. So the method I recommend depends on the decisions my client needs to make or the understanding she is looking for (or maybe not yet looking for).
    A market researcher who wants to help clients efficiently make the best decision under uncertainty, or unlock customer insights they didn’t even know were there, has to show more methodological savvy not less.

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