Gareth Hodgson, Director, Mustard
Over the years we’ve encountered plenty of myths about market research. People not directly involved in the industry form their perceptions from a broad range of influences, be it television (don’t get me started on The Apprentice), election campaigns (“the polls are always wrong anyway”), the boring debrief they had to sit through once, or their experience participating in research themselves, amongst many many others.
Don’t get me wrong, they don’t get it wrong all the time, but there are plenty of mis-truths that we commonly hear which I’d like to try and dispel…

Myth #1: We are this kind of guy…
Picture the scene. I’m at another social occasion making small-talk with somebody as interested in the conversation as I am.
Them: “So Gareth, what do you do?”…
Me: “Oh I work for a market research agency”…
Them: “What, like doing surveys with people on the street and that…”
Ok, so yes, street interviews are part of what we do, but a small part and increasingly so. Much more than being woman/man with clipboard, we use a huge variety of methods ranging from online forums, video and mobile apps to interactive online surveys, gamification and social media alongside more traditional methods to ensure that relevant customer / market opinion informs the decision making and strategies of organisations across the world.

Myth #2: You don’t need to do Market Research
We have Steve Jobs to thank for this one. I’ve seen many artsy black and white photos of Mr Jobs stroking his chin accompanied by the quote “It isn’t the consumer’s job to know what they want” as people try and justify going with what they think rather than their customers. Oh well if the Apple genius says so then it must be right mustn’t it? Errr well that might carry some weight if it wasn’t for the fact that Apple do actually do market research! The Apple vs. Samsung patent war revealed details of 2011 Apple market research and analysis to understand reasons for buying an iPhone. Just worth checking hey Steve?
In all seriousness though, better decisions are generally made when people have more or better information to base them on. That’s why tins in supermarkets have labels on them. Nobody wants dog meat when they were hoping for baked beans.

Myth #3: We need to do a….
If I had a pound for every time somebody has come to us in the last year saying “we need to do… focus groups / street interviews / telephone interviews… (etc.)”, then I’d have like ten pounds. But that’s still too much in a year! I should have zero pounds! The most effective research comes where the method is chosen last not first. The method should be defined by the objectives, audience and required outputs of the research. Would you use radio as the only channel to advertise a product where the most important aspects are visual?

Myth #4: Any monkey can design a survey
“Anybody can do research can’t they, you just have to knock up a few questions on a survey and get people to fill it out, and stick the results in bar charts don’t you? And anyway, I did a research module on my business degree so I know what I’m doing. I can just use Survey Monkey.”
OK, that’s fine but there is a reason why the research industry exists you know. We do get trained to effectively design questionnaires and discussion guides to ensure that information is captured effectively. We do understand the impact of different wording, or scales, or question flow, and we do understand different methods and techniques to get past the front-of-mind or superficial. And we do have expertise in analysing quantitative and quantitative information to deliver genuine insight. That’s because we do this professionally. Every. Single. Day.
I’ve got an iPhone with iMovie. Anybody want me to make their next TV Ad for them? Thought not.

Myth #5: It’s going to be too expensive
I’ll stop being a ranty smart-arse for a second. Some people geneuinely do believe that they can’t do research because they think it’s too expensive and that’s understandable. However, I would refer them to Myth number 3. There is usually a way. The market research toolkit is enormous and although the best approach, or even the desired approach, may be too expensive, there are always other options to explore. You might not get the level of statistical validity you are looking for, but you may get a very clear steer to inform your decision making. Sometimes there isn’t a way forward within a budget and any researcher worth their salt will tell you this, but it’s better to know than assume. Don’t be scared to ask!

Myth #6: My audience is too niche
Another barrier in people’s minds when it comes to research is that they think their audience is too niche, however that is generally not the case. The rate of development in technology over the last 15 years (and the subsequent decreases in cost) has been effectively embraced by the research industry, and this means that most audiences are very much researchable. Whether by smartphone app, online community, video diary boards, or online survey, most people can be engaged in some way. And with e-mail, social media and online research panels, very specific types of individuals can be identified. We’ve recently conducted research with a specific type of fisherman in Peru and third-trimester pregnant women across Italy, easily turning both around in less than two weeks. When I started in the industry that would have been impossible.
Unless your target audience is an isolated tribe in the Brazilian rainforest, you’re probably ok, but with the options available to us these days we’d probably even have a go at trying that!

Myth #7 Big data is better
For all the numerous positives which have come from big data, one negative has been the suggestion by some that it provides better information than traditional market research and can be used as an alternative. Yes, with vast amounts of data based on real / actual behaviour which organisations can slice and dice, segment and model to the nth degree, understanding has never been greater. Effective pilots and measures can be put in place to explore and predict the impact of different variables on behaviour, and the data-sets involved generate strong confidence. But is it truly a replacement for market research? Definitely not.
There is a huge gap when it comes to the ‘why’s?’ which is fundamental to true understanding. Yes, we know how they behave, but do we know why? What are their perceptions? What are their emotions? This is where research truly comes to the fore, particularly qualitative. Rather than being used to replace market research, the true value in big data is using it to accompany and strengthen traditional research for stronger insights.

Myth #8: It’s too late
Another benefit of the enhanced use of technology in market research is that the timescales for turnaround have been dramatically shortened. It is now feasible to launch a short online survey on one day and be analysing findings from 1,000 respondents 24 hours later, or running online depth interviews or groups within the same timescales.
If you’re two days from launching new creative, or a new product or service and you still have nagging doubts about some wording, or imagery or a minor detail, there’s still a chance you can launch with more confidence. It’s not the ideal, but it’s better than the alternative. It could be the difference between wasting an entire budget on an ineffective launch or celebrating your successes with enhanced customer undertstanding.

Myth #9: We are the survey police
The last myth I’d like to expose is that we are the survey police. I’ve sat in plenty of meetings with client’s PR agencies as they nervously reference ‘research’ that they have done to generate a story, or angle or stat (‘You’re not going to like it but we did ‘X’ or asked Y’). I might not have done a great job at dispelling this myth through this blog, but ultimately research agencies are there to help our clients and partners, whatever their goals. If the goal is purely PR, then that’s fine, but we can use our expertise to help hone your question(s) or approach more effectively. If you’ve chosen to use Survey Monkey for budgetry reasons, we can help inform your questionnaire or support on your analysis. We’re not going to sulk or shout!
Whisper it quietly, but we’re not all actually grey-suited, grey-haired, grey-complexioned robots churning through data and churning out graphs. We’re a more creative part of the marketing mix than we’re given credit for. We’ve probably embraced the use of a broad range of technology more quickly and widely than other disciplines, and this enables us to know your customers better than you do and communicate this in an engaging and user-friendly way to have a real impact on strategy. Myth number 10, we’re not as important as other marketing disciplines? You might be surprised.

Gareth Hodgson is a director at Mustard Market Research Ltd., Manchetster.
What to know more? Mustard will be attending PN Live on February 15 & 16. Visit us at stand 12 (directly opposite the bar).