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Market Research Lessons from Edward Snowden

Love him or hate him, Edward Snowden is a catalyst for change.

How did he do it? And what can we market researchers learn from it?

The Big Reveal Gets Big Attention

Snowden didn’t suggest that there might be an issue. He didn’t send out a 50 slide PowerPoint. He didn’t bury his key point on a slide with 4 other “results.” He had a single message, and it was bold:  he stated that there was massive, secret surveillance of US citizens.

Would his message been as powerful if he revealed three other accusations at the same time? Probably not.

As researchers, we often have several key conclusions from a study. On one hand, that shows a good ROI; our client paid $X, and got several key take aways. But should there be a “primary” conclusion? Should we be doing a better job of creating a “star” result, something that is likely to be shocking enough to grab attention, without be diluted by other points?

Multiple Proof Points Create Legitimacy

Snowden didn’t just leak one document or one piece of data. He had many documents to support his conclusion (different news reports vary as to the exact number, but the range is 20,000 to over a million documents). I bet very few people actually looked at the documents; just seeing that there were lots of them was convincing.

Would his accusations have been as compelling if he only had one document? Probably not.

In research, we often draw conclusions from a single study. We do a survey, focus group, ethnographic study or some other method, and then deliver the conclusions from that single study. It can be hard for clients to trust data from a single study, no matter how compelling.  Can we be doing a better job of using multiple data sources?

Market Researchers versus Whistleblowers

Okay, delivering market research results is quite different than releasing classified national security material. But these two lessons do apply, especially if our goal is to have our research truly get attention. If you were a whistleblower, how would you build your case? Prepare for your big reveal? And could you be doing the same things when you are preparing to deliver your next research-based insights?


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Kathryn Korostoff

Kathryn Korostoff is founder and lead instructor at Research Rockstar. Over the past 25 years, she has personally directed more than 600 primary market research projects and published over 100 bylined articles in magazines. She is also a professor at Boston University, where she teaches grad students how to analyze and report quantitative data.

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