Market Research Project Disasters: Common Cause #1

While there are many ways to derail a market research project, the most common one is unclear objectives. Unclear objectives lead directly to design delays, poor methodology fit, and unrealistic client expectations.

Lack of clarity is often due to one of the following:

1. Imprecision. The goals are documented and discussed at too high a level—and that vagueness leaves too much room for interpretation during the research design, analysis and reporting phases.

Example: A team agrees on an objective of creating a market segmentation model. Sounds good, right? Not really. There are many ways to do a segmentation model, and many initiatives that segmentation can support. Which ones are relevant? A better objective would be, “To develop a segmentation model that will support near-term sales strategy development,” or “To develop a segmentation model that will help us understand emerging customer opportunities.”  In the first example, the study would likely focus on purchase plans, budget/spend behaviors, brand preferences, and might be primarily quantitative. In the second, the study would likely include a rich discovery phase. Two segmentation studies, different true objectives, and different methods.

2. Unrealistic scope. If a project is defined with too many objectives, the scope becomes too broad to execute well.  In quantitative projects, this often is evidenced by a questionnaire that is so long and onerous, that the resulting data is weak.

In most cases the root cause of an unrealistic scope is conflicting agendas. Sure, everyone on the team may agree that they need to better understand customer needs, so they agree to do a project. But the team members may have their own spin on how they want to look at needs.

Here is an example. Without some discipline, a study about “customer needs” could easily end up with 5 or 6 objectives, such as:

  1. Understand relevant product category needs
  2. Understand customer service needs
  3. Discover customer perceptions of how to address current needs
  4. Measure potential value of addressing emerging needs (for pricing implications)
  5. Identify which brands have permission to address different needs

Without an agreed upon, and small, set of precise objectives, your project is at serious risk. None of the objectives will be met with excellence. You won’t have enough data specific to any one objective in order to generate any clarity or insights. And chances are, none of the stakeholders will be particularly satisfied, nor will they be likely to have enough conviction about the results to take action. And that is the real disaster.

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