The limitations of market research in brand-building news
08 July 2013

Consumer research may be one of the greatest marketing tools ever created, but marketers must know its limitations and be guided by their own judgement, says Vandan Chopra, founder-member and creative director, Adept Artvertising Solutions.

Vandan ChopraDon't get me wrong; I love my research. In fact, according to me it is absolutely essential for any brand that wants to go out and talk to the consumer. It does however get a little dicet when the brand owner's solution to any problem (potential or existing) is, ''Let's go out and ask the consumer.''

The potential of consumer insight is however not as mighty as such marketers believe. Here, I'm going to try and identify the limitations of market research:

  • It will suggest, not decide. Any research will leave you with a plethora of possible solutions to your marketing problems. It will offer predictions and suggestions, but it will not tell you which is the best for your brand. Here is where you need to step in as the brand owner and decide what's best.
  • It will measure the past, not the future. No amount of statistical analysis or data cuts can predict the future. Research will not take into account natural calamites, or a new government rule that threatens your product's existence, or a competitor that offers the same product at less than 50 per cent the price of your product.
  • It assumes the sample is the population. This is the basic problem with any market research. Just think about it, you plan to target 30 million households based on research conclusions from a survey of 1,000 households. Generalising this data for the population as a whole does hold a certain amount of credibility, but only if brand owners don't cheap out on the sample size.
  • The consumer's research face. Dr Gregory House once said ''everybody lies''. An executive driving a Hyundai will say he is driving a Honda and a housewife who weighs 70 kg will claim to be 60. There is always a say-do gap in research and no amount of questionnaire modifications can nullify them.
  • Researcher bias. Having an opinion is human nature. Particularly when the data must go through the researcher's mind before it's put on paper. The Chinese whispers starting with the consumer and ending up on a research report is the reality of any qualitative research.

Market research as a tool is probably marketing's greatest invention. It provides a certain amount of credibility to your strategy before you go out and spend millions of dollars.

But the belief that research can provide a comprehensive understanding of behaviour, and that this understanding can be used to manipulate buying behaviour can be very misleading.

In other words, what market research cannot do is provide a solid, 100 per cent, fool proof plan of action that guarantees marketing success. Let research be your guide, while your judgment leads the way.

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The limitations of market research in brand-building