chopping vegetables

When Research Goes Wrong

Stu Perlmeter

In Market Research, there is a certain flow to how projects get defined. Early on, a project is defined as a quant project, a qual project, or maybe a combination of elements. Often this definitional process is right and good and yields the results for which it was intended. Just as often, however it doesn’t, and when that occurs, time and effort is wasted – and worse yet, the sought-after illumination simply doesn’t happen.

After 20 years in the Market Research business, I’ve seen my share of non-sense; hopefully I haven’t been the cause of much of it. There are a couple variations on the theme I’ve seen a lot. One is where the client casts the need for information and insight into a form factor that just doesn’t make sense. They will contact a research company and ask, “Will you bid on my focus group, survey (or fill in the blank). The research firm biz-dev person, in his/her delirium around having an “in-bound”, will usually take the request as a given, and not question why the delivery approach is defined as it is. Or perhaps, they don’t quite know how to have that conversation.

Another prevalent scenario is what I call the “hammer in search of a nail”. Even when the client doesn’t try to shape the study – they just lay out the business question, as they should. In this situation the research company that may be a specialist in one methodology will try to interpret the need into that method at which they are presumably masters. By dumb luck, good results may ensue – equally likely, they won’t.

The approach that makes the most sense to me, and what we have practiced over the years is to be eclectic – i.e., use a mix of whatever methods make sense, in the sequence that they do. Sometimes, time and budget don’t allow for the ideal blending, but the best metaphor I can come up with is ‘cooking’.

You can prepare a meal from a recipe, and maybe it will turn out terrifically. But what if you were thrown into a kitchen that was well stocked, and told, sans recipe to prepare a meal with only what was available. This second scenario is a better metaphor for how market research needs to happen for many organizations today. Results are needed quickly, on limited resources and with the recognition that the perfect is the enemy of the good.

Let me know if you need any help dicing the onions.

About the Author

Stu Perlmeter

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Stu brings 30 years of marketing and research experience to 1st Resource, which he founded in 1996. Stu’s primary expertise is in understanding the market insights that tie to success formulas for companies seeking to grow their business in strategic ways.