3 Gargantuan Mistakes of Research

I’m sure you’ve heard that bats are blind… 

Turns out it’s not true, they can see quite well.

Myths like that might be harmless to us in day-to-day life, but if you let bad data slip into your marketing research without tough examination, it can be DEADLY.

The problem is, consumer research is laced with traps that are easy to get unwittingly led into. Most of which come from what the market really cares about, what the market really wants and what the market says they will respond to best.

This post will open your eyes to three of the biggest traps and reveal how you can dodge them as if your Jerry mouse…

  1. Unmindful Misdirection.

People don’t think what they feel, don’t say what they think and don’t do what they say, David Ogilvy wrote about his time spent in market research.

It’s not that people misdirect on purpose, it’s that people think that all they are doing is thinking, which produces different verbally articulated rationalisations for how they feel about something.

This may sound bizarre, but there is a biological reason for why this happens.

In Descartes’ Error, Antonio Damasio shows how, neurologically speaking, the brains emotional circuits aren’t connected to the verbal circuits. So while we may say one thing, it might not actually be the real cause of our feelings towards something.

However, while people may not be saying what they mean, the fact that they are saying it is important…

For example, it’s long been found older folk have an aversion to using online banking. If you ask them to tell you why, the number one reason given is fraud. Yet digging deeper the revealed reason is from the fear of sending someone £5,000 not £50.

2. Statistical Confirmation

If you look hard enough you can find research on anything, that proves anything.

It’s not that the data is bad, it’s usually in the approach of going out and finding supporting evidence for how we want the world to be.

Which is not research, it’s what’s known as a confirmation bias.

Proper research on data and statistics requires an open-mind.

As Martin Weigel summed up brilliantly…

“Research is the practise of open-minded enquiry. To seek to know how things work. To strive to understand why they work they way they do. Purveyors of off-the-shelf testing methodologies have no such agenda. They’ve already determined how things should work.”

If you’ve already determined what you want the market to think or react to, and then try to find supporting rationalisations for why it’s true can sharply veer you off into confusing territory.

As Mark Twain said, don’t use statistics like a drunk uses a lamppost; more for support than illumination. 

3. Contextual Limitations

If you are researching for answers based on the current paradigm that people are living in, you can miss out on a whole new insights when the paradigm or context of a product changes.

The classic adage that Ford said if you ask what people wanted they would have said a faster horse fits into this category.

It’s not that people didn’t want a faster more efficient way of transport, it’s that they didn’t know what that would be, or what it would look like. As the current frame of reference as a mode of transport was horse the answer made sense.

Another example of this comes from the birth of the smartphone. Tricia Wang in her TED talk details how Nokia missed out on the opportunity of a lifetime by missing the rise of the smartphone. When the research showed that people would never spend $1000 for a phone they listened. Shortly after the iPhone came and took the world into a new paradigm.

By thinking about what paradigm the customer is currently living in it will help you uncover if they are interrupting your question right and help you decide if the opinion is valid or not.

Hopefully these three points will help you navigate the traps of consumer research and uncover the real insight you crave.

It’s always good to imagine putting a pair of skeptics glasses on when researching, figuring out what your looking at is the truth before using it to inform your decisions.

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