Marketing Research brings only incremental changes…


Most of us are aware that Market research forms the backbone of any new product / idea / service launches! That’s what has been taught to us in our MBA classes. It was always fascinating for me to get those statistical tools right under the skin, which made me a little more confident every time I run some test on excel/SPSS. But is it the larger picture?

Before we delve a little deeper into this – This is how generally a market research / survey is carried out!

Researcher: Sir, I am from XYZ Company; would you mind answering a few questions about our new products that you have been using?

Respondent: O yes, why not! I have a lot to share with you about your new product.

Researcher: Sir, that’s alright. But can we first fill in the questionnaire. Q1….

Customer: This new product should be like….

Researcher: Sir, you have to answer on a scale of 1 to 5! I will take your opinions in the end. (Which are never analyzed or pondered over) Let’s finish all questions. I do not have a head under which I can place your opinions, but I’ll write it around somewhere on the sheet!

The companies that have been creating strategies around a research have been doing so for quite a while and they are doing quite well. “They are doing quite well” because we are so bounded by our own mediocre mind-sets – that we don’t see beyond profits in the next quarter! And hence, answers to a few questions on a five point scales help us form a strategy. Doing well, is subjective and how well can we do without it and rather having conversations with users / customers? We haven’t really tried.

This is because, businesses define their problems, and however the solutions are there with the customer to a problem which wasn’t even identified. The only link missing is ‘conversations’, usually. Still, the results come out to be fancy with creativity of researcher.

But creativity gets only incremental, at best.


Some might say, with such a mass audience, how is it possible to interact with all and analyze what they need? Justice to the question – Just as we’re proclaiming the death of mass marketing and the rise of social media, where is need for mass research?

B-School still teaching traditional Marketing Research, can’t debate on that; I have slept through useless 100 other subjects and classes. Not saying Marketing research is useless, it requires a refinement in digital marketing era. (Well, that’s true for almost all subjects).

The problem with seeking information from traditional means by citing Henry Ford’s famous line: “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said ‘a faster horse”. He built the first car!

Steve Jobs, “Customers are not supposed to know what they want”. He made Ipod. Google don’t really do any marketing research as well, they experiment.

A brilliant observer, Akio Morita “searched for disruptive footholds by observing and questioning what people really were trying to get done.” He created 12 successful new-market innovations from his careful observation and creativity. Christensen goes on to explain that Akio left the company to pursue political interests, leaving marketing to a team of MBA’s. Sony didn’t introduce a new market innovation for the next 18 years.

Innovation comes from observing and interacting with real people (interesting people) trying to accomplish tasks in real life. Asking a few ‘statistically-average’ people, questions will give average, uninspired results.

Traditional techniques such as focus groups and surveys, which (in most cases) simply ask people what they want, rarely yield important insights. This is because all consumers just want the products to get a little better.

The tools of conventional market research can be useful in pointing toward incremental improvements, but they will never lead to those rule-changing, game-changing, paradigm-shifting breakthroughs that leave us scratching our heads and wondering why nobody ever thought of them before.

Your thoughts?

  1. Sandeep says

    Interesting one but despite what you say market research is a growing industry with growth rates of 15% plus in Asia Pacific and higher in India.
    Very fortunately what is taught in bschools isn’t what professional market research companies do.
    Research do listens to consumers and we have plenty of work in digital area to listen to what people have to say. Also qualitative work is where we interact with people and find out all that they have to say.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.

who's online