Why is my Marketing Research Useless?

Many companies know the importance of doing marketing research.  Yet many do not know how to do it or why they are doing it.  This often leads to market research that is conducted for the wrong reasons, conducted unnecessarily, or conducted incorrectly.  In any of these events, the data you capture and the conclusions you reach will be useless.

When you need to conduct marketing research, always make sure you have a specific, well-defined problem you want the research to solve.  You might notice that sales are falling in a particular territory.  So you immediately try to do a survey to see what might make customers and prospects in that region buy more of your product.  But is declining sales the problem?  Or is it a symptom of another problem?  You need to rule that out before you try to tackle it.

To define the problem appropriately, you need to do some basic exploratory research.  Your business problem then is: “to discover why sales are falling in Territory X.”  So you talk to your sales manager and sales agents in that region.  You might find out that the competition in Territory X is more significant than in your other territories.  Or you may find that  customers in Territory X are likelier than those in other territories to report product defects, that they’ve stopped buying your product.  There can be other reasons.  But once you’ve identified the real problem, you can do the marketing research that helps you address it appropriately.

Another reason marketing research produces undesirable results is that your organization may have too many stakeholders with an interest in the research.  As a result, company politics influences the research that’s done, the questions asked, the vendor selected, and a host of other things that should be handled exclusively by the marketing researcher.  This is a recipe for research disaster.

One prominent association I used to work for wanted to conduct a survey of professionals who used and/or purchased its publications.  The publishing department wanted to understand what the needs of these professionals were, so that they could know what enhancements could be made.  So far, so good.  But the problem was that so many other departments had a hand in the process.  The sales department wanted to know about competition and purchase intent; the content writers wanted to know about satisfaction with specific features of the publications; and the business development department wanted to know the markets in which they had the best chances of success.  As a result, we ended up with a survey questionnaire that was so long, convoluted, and tedious that many respondents abandoned the survey or chose not to take it.  To date, the association has not acted on the findings of the survey, and that’s been a couple of years.  The moral of the story: keep the survey’s objective to a single purpose.  It’s better to do several short surveys on singular topics over time than to do one big omnibus multi-themed survey.

To ensure your marketing research efforts produce insights you can act on, always define your problem clearly and keep a tight focus on the research objective.

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