Market Research Debunked

Mar 17, 2014 8 Comments by

Martina Olbertová

5 myths holding us back from using the full potential of market research.

New research trends open up doors to breakthrough insights & brand direction, but market research still does not utilise its full potential. The future in a form of new trends such as behaviour economics, semiotics, forecasting, or culture mapping has already arrived. The problem is that in the marketing industry it has been distributed disproportionally.

We can see islands of creative & inspirational research around the world with methods such as co-creation, crowdsourcing, ethnography, co-research, or even the more sophisticated methods such as semiotics, cultural analysis, or trend curating. However, the actual business use of these methods is still very minor in comparison to the traditional validation research.

If we want to use the full potential of research in the future, we will have to integrate it directly in the brand strategy process. Using research as a vital part of strategy is a great investment in your brand’s future. Research should play a leading role in all marketing activities of a brand. It should function as a sustainable long-term strategy for data gathering & evaluation and as an integral part of brand intelligence.

However, there is a cloud of preconceived ideas floating above our heads, which creates misconceptions about what research should be used for. This makes it uneasy for new research trends to fully adapt in the marketplace as the prevailing research paradigm is still heavily based upon ideas that are no longer relevant to brands or consumers today. Applying old frameworks of thinking to new trends, based on current thought mechanisms, makes new methods hard to establish as this perspective views them as minor and irrelevant.

Over the past two decades, both our communication and consumer habits have shifted significantly, while research methods have remained much the same. If we don’t want to produce ineffective results that will drive our businesses off the cliff, we should look underneath the surface on what grounds market research was formed as an industry and closely examine new ways we can use to fuel meaning back in heart of our clients’ brands via empowering better business decisions.

I see five myths clouding our judgment about what research should best be used for, derived from how market research is being misunderstood as a business tool in marketing today. Unless we don’t “demythicise” research, we will still produce results with methods that are outlived and outsmarted by consumers, who have already learnt to rewire their thought structures to fit the research techniques, and as such, have become virtually immune to them.

Demythisation 1: Research is not a data report.
The first myth is that the outcome of research is a data report. The report is still being handed to clients as a holy grail, the ultimate result of results, the final outcome of all research activity. This very practice itself often makes it virtually impossible for the marketer to do the most important thing: understand data in context of their brand to form better business decisions for the future of their brand. That’s why data interpretation and their explanation in a broader social and cultural context should be a constant practice.

John Kearon, founder of BrainJuicer, who recently appeared on The Transformation Series on YouTube, expressed the following thought: “Researchers should be more like management consultants. Research is 40 billion USD industry, while management consulting is 400 billion USD industry. We do 9 tenths of the work, but because we present it badly, we charge 1/10th of the price for all the great work we do. We should present the research in a great way, add value and ultimately charge more.”

This really is the key here. What we need to do is to rephrase market research as an industry to function in more of a management consulting business (flexible, communication-driven and process-oriented) and less like a data delivering one (often rigid, non-transparent and instant results-oriented).

The impact of market research built on the premise of a consulting business can be huge. What companies and marketing professionals need are researchers that are seasoned partners, with enough data background not only to monitor what’s happening on the market, but more importantly to help them articulate what’s best for brand direction. This is the true added value of market research.

Demythisation 2: Research is not a substitute for lack of vision.
The second myth addresses the common belief that research should serve as an instant recipe for brand’s further direction. But if you look at how data is processed, you realise why that’s not essentially a good idea. Market research is largely an industry, which asks people what they think. If you break this mechanism down, you realise that time-wise researchers will only ever get responses that are attaching brand to the past in a form of its brand perception.

This is why planning your brand strategy based on “what people out there had said” is not a good idea. As a brand you are aiming to step out and go forward, but you find you’re being pushed back by what people thought of you in the first place. This very mechanism traps brands in the realm of their perception. Brands managed on the basis of brand perception are doomed. It’s the single key responsibility of a marketer and/or a brand strategist to form a brand vision and maintain that vision through a consistent brand management. It’s a responsibility that cannot be outsourced or delegated to the consumer, as consumers don’t know where you’re going. It’s your KPI’s after all, not your consumers.

Research is best used as a compass. If used correctly, research can be a tremendous strategic tool to monitor landscape of the market, bounce it back to the vision and inspire changes in your tactics and branding strategy. Brand perception will finally kick in only later on when the vision has successfully materialised in the minds of people.

Demythisation 3: Answers are not locked in heads of consumers. Semiotics can provide answers, where consumers are short of words.
The third myth tackles the preconceived idea that answers are locked in heads of consumers. This is actually the lead proposition that consumer research was built upon. Consumers, however, don’t have the answers to everything. Their perception and behaviours are by large influenced by the society and culture that helped form and shape their identity, beliefs and views of the world in the first place.

Here is the space opening up for semiotics and culture mapping as unique methods how to dig out an in-depth insight for brands by deriving meanings directly from analysing culture and its codes. In the Czech Republic for example, big FMCG companies such as Heineken, Mondelēz, and Pernod Ricard have already tapped into such methods. FMCG products are great for semiotic and cultural research as they usually have a vibrant packaging, high exposure in consumers’ daily lives and as such are full of complex meanings to explore. There’s no reason, however, why the same methods could not be applied also to banking and financial services, Tech and Telco companies, retail or other market segments.

Demythisation 4: Research is not validation, it can be more if used as a strategy.
The fourth myth aims to take down the idea that research is only good for validation. This idea is rooted so deeply, because validation is still the dominant way of research execution in marketing today. Even though, this is also the very reason, why it was not yet possible to fully integrate research in the planning of a marketing strategy, it would be foolish to think it’s the only way to go.

Research does not have to only validate, it can also inspire, activate consumers, enhance their loyalty, create a community, advocate, co-create or unlock new original views on the world around us. Unfortunately, unless brands grasp the fact that long-term inspiration and understanding of the brand’s cultural context is much more vital to the brand’s future than short-time brand trackings, we won’t be able to move much further in this direction as an industry.

Demythisation 5: Research is not purely analytical, it’s creative, too.
Fifth and last prevailing myth is condemning research as an analytical industry only. The myth itself is based on this binary opposition of validation and creativity we have built in our minds.  Many people in the marketing industry still believe that creativity is something highbrow and belongs solely in the hands of a creative department. Creativity, however, has much more to do with a divergent form of thinking and ability to form unexpected solutions to prevailing problems. It’s a capacity of a person’s mind.

This belief is accentuated by research methods such as crowdsourcing or co-creation. Nimbler brands have already started looking for ways to use research creatively as a part of their brand planning process and found ways to integrate research in their creative strategies. Good example of such a brand is Fidorka (a Czech chocolaty biscuit from Mondelēz brand portfolio), which used co-creation to develop its new fresh positioning of “Impish Pranks”. More tuned into the codes of a local Czech culture, this campaign is based on a universal insight (even stronger locally), which states that every adult has an inner child still enjoying silly pranks even if they grow older. Creativity, originality and playfulness have less to do with age, than our minds.

Thanks to embodying this in-depth insight, which was vitally relevant to Fidorka’s target audience in a simply executed creative way, the “Impish Pranks” campaign drove 12 % in sales and received Gold award in this year’s Czech Effie Awards for the most effective campaign in the FMCG category.

Martina Olbertová is a Brand Curator, and can be found on twitter at @MartinaOlb


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8 Responses to “Market Research Debunked”

  1. Binu Zachariah says:

    Interesting article!
    In my view, marketing Research needs to be refined and evolved further in accordance with the complexities and dynamics of modern market conditions & consumer culture. Time is ripe for a paradigm shift in Marketing research; ie, releasing it from the clutches of standard procedures and transforming it to a specialized professional service that makes use of diversity of skills, tools, technology and methods.

  2. Binu Zachariah says:

    In my view, marketing research practices need to be refined and evolved further in accordance with the complexities and dynamics of modern market conditions & consumer culture. As a profession, M R industry needs a paradigm shift that results in releasing M R practices from the clutches of standard procedures and transforming them into specialized professional services that make use of diverse skills, tools, technology and bespoke methods.
    Of course, all this calls for the intervention of Industry stalwarts and thought leaders to equip and convert current MR industry stake holders to be a part of a dynamic and multifaceted profession .

  3. Sandra Pickering says:

    Great post, Martina.
    There are some good debates around right now about the future of MRX.
    For me, a key question is: what are the core competences of MRX practitioners?
    Once upon a time, the industry was held together by process capabilities, such as survey design or projective methodologies or statisitcal analysis.

    But methodology is not the way to define an industry.
    So, let’s take a good management consulting approach based on ‘jobs to be done’.
    What job does MRX do?
    A very diverse and disconnected set of jobs.
    This suggests to me that it is no longer one cohesive ‘industry’.

    This is not only an issue for research suppliers but also for client-side researchers. The most forward-thinking leaders in client companies are dirving change – more here from one of my colleagues:

  4. Annie Pettit says:

    Love it! Researchers are collectors of massive quantities of data, but data without thinking is not research.

  5. Doug Kessler says:

    Excellent post, Martina.

    More marketers need to re-think their approach to research. You’ve nailed it with these five myths.

  6. will novosedlik says:

    Martina, you are right on the money. I’m encouraged to hear that some of the more traditional FMCGs are exploring new research methods. I can attest to the fact that clients over here in Canada and the USA have been telling us that they are feeling market research fatigue – they are seeing less and less value being created through the old school methods, especially focus groups. Ethnography, netnography and co-creation are our weapons of choice here at Idea Couture, and clients are very open to these new methodologies. All of the old school methods are based on pre-P2P marketing principles and behaviours. In other words, they are all top-down, ‘one-way’ methodologies associated with the old obsession with customer acquisition, which placed a premium on new customers and had no interest in the ones they already had. I see a major shift towards customer retention starting to happen as markets become over-saturated and customers become more empowered. Good piece.

  7. Greg Rowland says:

    Lovely stuff, Martina!

    Just to add that we’ve always done quite a lot outside of FMCG, so the possibilities for semiotics are endless!

  8. Martina Olbertova says:

    Thanks so much for your comments, everybody! I am very happy to see this article is driving so much interest and buzz in the global research & marketing community – it’s crucial to build a basis on which we can create a constructive discussion about the future of market research as an industry to be more in tune with thinking & behavior of consumers today and relevant to ways of communication they use. I am a big believer in research as a strategic instrument to catalyze change. It is not the end destination, it’s quite the opposite – a prerequisite of a successful healthy and engaging brand with relevant things to say. This to me is the true value of research. This, and it’s ability to contribute to making better strategic high-level decisions. This is why it needs to be more of a consulting results-oriented business (we all have the same interest here at heart) and much less like a detached data delivery. Let’s keep the conversation going and see where this can move us forward! Reinterpreting the key problems of MR and finding constructive solutions to it will be most important here. Please, feel free to contact me at

    Martina Olbertova

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