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What Kind of Research is MR?

The accomplishments within market research are often times veiled in an effort to protect against competitors. Our editor Larry Friedman, expands upon the value of MRX discoveries and the reason insights discoveries are often undisclosed to the public.

The “Jonas Salk Middle School” is a few miles from my house.  I remember being impressed the first time I saw it because local schools get named for someone who has had a major impact on the community or the world.  

It appropriate for a school to be named after Salk. He was the discoverer of the first vaccine for Polio, which had been ravishing the US and the world.  His discovery literally saved the lives of millions. I read recently that Salk never made a penny off the vaccine; he didn’t patent it and viewed it as a gift to the world. 

There are other schools around the world named after scientists like Einstein, Curie, and Pasteur. Einstein, ironically, was working in the Swiss Patent Office in 1905 when he wrote a series of papers that changed Physics, including Special Relativity; he never patented any of it.  

I am unaware of any local schools named after a market researcher.  

Why Is That?  

It isn’t that market researchers are bad people. Most are good, honest people who are charitable and devote effort on behalf of their communities. One of my good friends is Howard Moskowitz. Since retiring, he has devoted himself to adapting the market research methods he developed to serve as a means for teaching children in poor countries around the world how to think like a scientist and do actual research. He’s having a real impact.

I think the main reason why you won’t find schools named after Market Researchers is that market research is fundamentally a commercial enterprise, unlike basic scientific research or medical research which have as their goals the betterment of humankind (and no, I am not idealizing scientific researchers; I have read too many academic satires by David Lodge for that).

Basic scientific/medical research is essentially an open process. Anyone should be able to replicate your work after reading your report in a refereed journal.  It is the job of editors and anonymous referees to make sure that everything is on the up and up. There has been a real problem discovered over the past few years with difficulty in replicating certain studies in some social science fields. It is a serious issue. While discouraging in many ways, it shows the strength of an open system.

In medical research that is done commercially by pharma companies, it is the FDA that ensures that the methods used prove the case that the new drug has the claimed benefits. In return for that openness, pharma companies are granted a patent on their discovery.

Market Research Discoveries

The commercial world of market research is not open, because it is fundamentally about getting a commercial advantage.  There is a veil of secrecy that is always kept up, either by clients or by market research companies. The best work I’ve done in my career for clients has been kept hidden so their competitors don’t find out. If I wanted to speak about it at a conference, I had to blind it so nobody really knew who I was speaking about, or what I really found. I always found it extremely frustrating, but that was the bargain I made when I entered the field.

Market research companies gain commercial advantage by developing proprietary services. They don’t get a patent for them unless there is some technology involved.   In speaking or writing about them, critical components are kept hidden; otherwise, they could be ripped off. Clients don’t get the full story about validation the way a refereed science journal or the FDA would demand.

Therefore, the commercial world of market research is essentially a ”buyer beware” world. The overwhelming majority of market researchers I’ve met are honest and do their best, but at the end of the day, you never really know what you’re getting. Organizations like the ARF, ESOMAR, and MSI do yeoman’s work in getting the validation that only real openness can provide, but they only touch a small percentage of market research. There is no FDA for market research.

I’d love to see a local school named for a market researcher. But it will only happen for something they did outside of market research.

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2 responses to “What Kind of Research is MR?

  1. Larry – a problem that often vexes me. ESOMAR likes to talk about standards all the time, as do other organizations, and yet no one is vetting new technologies (except the occasional ARF project). Any idiot can make any claims about what their new tool can do and researchers without the qualifications to evaluate these claims only find out by trying it out and getting burned. Wouldn’t this be a great Greenbook project – systematically reviewing research areas and issuing a report?

  2. Larry, I definitely agree that, unfortunately, there are charlatans among our midsts. I have championed a certification process for decades, and achieved my PRC in 2007.

    I dropped it a few years later. While I appreciated the CE aspect, the commercial visibility was basically non existent. When clients asked “What’s a Prick?” I explain the significance to them, reinforced by my talents and actionable insights and analytics.

    We need to be more viable and visible to the business world – collaborating with the C-Levels and proving our worth. Then, perhaps, they’ll name things after the best of us.

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