The Seven Deadly Sins of Marketing Research

Submitted by Kip on Mon, 06/28/2010

For those of you who have either forgotten or have made a regular habit of the seven original deadly sins, let's review: Lust, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Pride, Envy, and Gluttony.

Based on 30 years of work in various marketing roles and having started out in marketing research (at Burke), I’d like to offer up my modern version of these seven deadly sins when it comes to marketing research. In the spirit of equal time, I’ll finish up this blog post with what I consider Seven Heavenly Virtues for Marketing Research.

So here we go:

1.) Sloth (i.e. not having a valid business reason for conducting consumer research in the first place) - When I was a brand assistant, every time I’d propose doing some research he’d ask me what business decision was dependent on doing this research. If I didn’t have a good enough answer, we didn’t do the research (since he correctly argued it would be a waste of money if we’re going to make the call regardless of the outcome of the research). The late Andy Pearson, PepsiCo’s CEO, called it “What/So What/Now What”….that’s a terrific acid test for any consumer research you’re considering.

2.) Lust (i.e. I wish I could actually implement this segmentation research to do something to build the business but I unfortunately I can’t) - I’ve seen millions of dollars wasted on segmentation research. In theory it sounds fantastic – to know exactly who you need to reach and understand what makes them tick. The challenge (hence the lust) is getting actually being able to operationally do this on a daily and affordable basis. I’ve seen it happen occasionally but too many times everyone recognizes this practical problem too late (i.e. after you’ve spent all the research money).

3.) Pride (i.e. we already know what our consumers need and want and we’re just going through the motions of doing marketing research) - Focus groups are, in my opinion, “weapons of mass delusion” which have been totally misused by way too many marketers and agencies. Focus groups were originally intended to help refine the preparation for quantitative research, not be an end in itself. How many of you have walked out of a long day and/or night of focus groups and heard everyone comment how consumers just confirmed what was originally planned all along?

4.) Greed (i.e. when your marketing research company insists on the client using a proprietary index or methodology) - Marketing research companies understandably would like for all of their clients to never leave. Unfortunately, I’ve seen too many instances in which they try to get them to stay for the wrong reasons. One favorite technique is to use some “special” algorithm or rating scale that only that research company can utilize (ideally for a long term tracking survey). My experience with this has been you shouldn’t sign up for such an offer – as a client you should be able to switch vendors without giving up the quality or readability of your consumer data capabilities.

5.) Gluttony (i.e. the marketing research company acts as if they get paid by the pound on research reports) - This is the ultimate “Death by PowerPoint” – 300 page reports which have endless charts, graphs, tables and cross-tabs. Here’s a thought: start all consumer research with a one page executive summary with the conclusions – this isn’t a mystery novel! Pre-reads are also underused technique as well – use consumer research meeting to probe findings, not present them, with clients.

6.) Wrath (i.e. if you really think consumers are really going to answer your 100 question survey, you’re going to be deeply disappointed) - I’m personally shocked anyone today would fill out a questionnaire that takes more than 10 minutes to complete. It’s not surprising to me response rates are declining ever year – we’ve abused the goodwill of consumers and now we’re all paying the price.

7.) Envy (i.e. I wish I had more money so I could do all of the research that I need to do) - While all of us could certainly use more marketing resources, there are an amazing number of either free or cheap resources available today to understand more about your consumer’s wants and needs (see previous blog on this topic at http://tiny.cc/xe2pw). Another technique I’ve successfully used is to simply hang out where your consumers are (i.e. the grocery store, restaurant, etc) and talk to them. It’s free, easy and often incredibly enlightening.

So much for the Seven Deadly Marketing Research sins. Here’s what I’d like to see more of in the future in terms of Heavenly Marketing Research Virtues:

1) Focus – having the right research for the right reason at the right time

2) Pragmatism – being able to translate the marketing research findings and segmentation theory into an actual on-going business system

3) Humility – never second guessing your consumer and being genuinely interested and open to their points of view and suggestions

4) Transparency – being open and candid with yourself, your consumers and your management with all of your marketing research studies

5) Frugality – knowing how to stretch your limited marketing research budget and when it makes sense to do so

6) Respect – for your consumer....how about more surveys similar to Net Promoter Score (NPS) that is all of two questions and has close to 100% response rate?

7) Fun – enjoying getting to know your business, your customers and your potential with the smart use of marketing research

Who's with me on this? Who's got a different list in terms of what's right and wrong with marketing research today? Reactions and suggestions welcome from marketers and research agencies!