Most of us have heard about the aversion of Steve Jobs to marketing research, who felt that it limited true innovation. He had an unwavering confidence in his own opinion and instinct over what marketing research might tell him – an approach that obviously served him extremely well with Apple and Pixar. Jobs, like Edison, Disney and other famous innovators of that breed, possessed an uncanny ability to conceptualize beyond the present and take
society to new unimaginable frontiers. Unfortunately, the rest of us need to innovate and reinvent with strong empirically derived insights about the marketplace. So, with all due deference to Steve Jobs, I would like to express my respect and thanks for the discipline of marketing research, and the extensive tool chest that comes with it – a tool chest that has become amazingly expansive with digital technologies.
Well-conceived and executed marketing research enables the rest of us to make smart, fact based decisions, and reduces the risk associated with introducing faulty products, services, market penetration strategies and campaigns. I have been frequently confronted with the challenges posed by marketing research skeptics: “It takes too long.” “It is too expensive.” “Am I just going to learn something I already know?” The fact of the matter is that well conceived and designed marketing research does not have to be any of these, especially today with the digital capabilities available.
Let’s consider secondary research. The Internet enables marketers to efficiently conduct competitive assessments at little or no cost. Prior to the Internet, a business would have little choice but to purchase either a stock or customized industry report to capture information about the competition. Now, competitive websites tell us a great deal. We can also employ social listening tools that allow marketers to monitor consumer chatter occurring about competitors as well as their own company. Search engines quickly point us in the direction of the statistics and market intelligence we need on target markets for a new innovation or business reinvention endeavor. Big companies and start-ups alike need this information to develop addressable market assumptions for business plans and to obtain funding.
Primary research (e.g., surveys, focus groups, diary panels) has received an incredible boost from digital formats. Most marketing research agencies today offer online services, which allow for very cost efficient sampling, surveying and data capture. Also, this data can be quickly uploaded into sophisticated modeling designs to forecast marketplace uptake. Additionally, companies, such as Survey Monkey, have grown in popularity because they allow virtually anyone to conduct a survey, with a sample provided by the marketer or purchased at a very low price from the provider. Survey Monkey automatically loads the data into easily understood tables and graphs and information is available on a 24/7 basis.
Marketing research in the digital age is faster and more economical than ever. Not unlike research conducted prior to the digital age, it needs to be conducted with a plan, the knowledge of how to ask the right questions to address the problem, and the ability to build insights from the data that lead to actionable and sound strategies. Sound marketing research helps us to avoid the pitfall of bringing to market an offering that may otherwise be destined for failure. So, give thanks for a discipline that can give you peace of mind and a good night’s sleep.