Common Marketing Research Mistakes

I was interviewed recently by a major business publication about common marketing research mistakes that businesses make. As someone who has been involved in marketing research – conducting research, contracting with vendors to conduct research, writing about and teaching market research courses – I was able to share a number of examples of things I’ve seen (and sometimes that I’ve done myself!).

Some of the most common mis-steps I see include:

  • Not doing research when you should – e.g. relying on “gut instinct” or what I call the “N of 1” which is basically projecting your own personal experiences/impressions on their intended audience. For instance, because I’m a woman, I feel that my impressions are reflective of all women’s perspectives.
  • *Doing* research when you shouldn’t. Research can be expensive and it is not always necessary. There are occasions when you’ll actually have information on hand that could answer your researchable questions. Sales data, customer demographic date, purchase history, etc. This information can be analyzed and used to make decisions related to market expansion, new product development, price adjustments, etc. Rather than asking people what they *might* do, you may already have data on hand that tells you what they *have* done.
  • Making decisions based on “qualitative” research – e.g. focus groups, quick polls, responses to posts you put on social media forums, etc. While these inputs can be helpful, they’re not quantitative, or statistically valid. The bigger the decision, the more critical it is to conduct quantitative research to minimize the risk of making a “bad” decision. (Of course *no* research is ever 100% accurate – the key is to get information that is as reliable as possible to help make informed decisions.)
  • Trying to do it yourself and making common mistakes like asking loaded questions, asking “two questions” in one question, not asking the right questions, etc. If you don’t feel you have the time or financial resources to get professional help with your market research needs, a step in the right direction is testing your research on people as representative as possible of your target audience. If you’ve developed a survey, give it to 10-15 people and ask for their feedback. That can help you avoid making easily avoidable mistakes.
  • Choosing research over reality. In some cases, actually *doing* something in a small/pilot way can give you real results that can be used to expand your efforts. Testing a direct mail effort, a Facebook ad or an email marketing effort in a small way can provide you with real results that can help you make informed decisions as you roll out larger marketing efforts. Whenever you can determine what your audience *will* do, versus what they say they *might* do, go for it!
  • Not paying attention to the results of the research. Sometimes the information you get from research will be contrary to your commonly (and often rigidly!) held beliefs. When conducting research it’s important first to ensure that the data is being collected in a statistically sound way so that it can be relied upon and second to be committed to actually relying on it.

There are more mis-steps that I’ve seen, but these are the “big rocks” and, I think, some things that can be easily avoided.  I’m a strong believer in doing research to help make informed decisions. I’m also a strong believer in doing it right. It doesn’t have to be extensive – it doesn’t have to be expensive – and, in fact, sometimes you won’t even need to do anything other than analyze the information you already have on hand (or that you can find through other secondary sources). Or, that you could find out through small tests of actual response to your marketing efforts.

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