Marketing Research in the death throes



On occasion I come across a post that really moves me to action. In a recent Greenbook newsletter Edward Appleton raised two strong points about market research’s role. He was relaying information from two separate posts in the Harvard Business Review (HBR). I strongly suggest reading his post if time permits, but in summary he raises a few questions that we need to be able to answer.

First, as a profession do we need to worry about the reputation of the market research industry? Short answer is yes! There are numerous pundits saying that marketing research is dead, that surveying customers and prospects is so yesterday, and respondents will invariably say one thing and do another. Are these points true? Again the answer is yes. Does it mean we should all be looking for new jobs? Short answer is no!

As a profession market research has undergone numerous tidal waves of change. The mere fact that phone and mail surveys have been largely replaced by online or mixed-mode surveys is proof that we can adapt and evolve. The fact that many of us are now using text analytics and social media tracking tools to dive into that stream of data is another point of proof.

Edward raises a second point – how can research be saying one thing and actual events portray another? When we isolate ourselves behind computers and stacks of statistics books it is easy to lose sight of what is important to the customer. We must get out into the field, observe and ask direct questions of customers as they stand in line or browse the isles. Customer satisfaction surveys and brand awareness trackers can be powerful tools, but they can also be locked into measuring constructs that are not of import to the customer, prospect or end-user of the data.

One of the most challenging, but ultimately rewarding experiences a researcher can have is to motivate his or her executives to get out into the trenches and see what is going on first hand. The insight gained can provide valuable feedback to our work and allow us to keep it current with the times. Confucius said it best:

I hear, I forget.
I see, I remember.
I do, I understand.


About the Author

Greg TimpanySince 1988 Greg has delved into the world of marketing, analytics and strategy. His expertise bridges the space between the structured world of IT and the creative, customer-centric needs of marketing. His thought leadership is sought out by executives in B2B, B2C and the public sector. Currently he directs the research efforts for Cary, NC based Global Knowledge. In addition he is a contributing author to the Cvent Survey blog; an instructor for Meredith College and Research Rockstar. As an entrepreneur he is co-founder of Anova Market Research. Past engagements have included working with The Los Angeles Times, Guitar Center and Wilkin Guge Marketing. He can be followed at: and all posts by Greg Timpany →