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Preventing Market Research Abuse

Well, “abuse” may be a little strong…but market research results certainly do get misused. Sometime intentionally; twisting results to confirm existing opinions, or ignoring results perceived to be inconvenient. In other cases, the misuse is accidental—issues such as poorly labeled charts or unclear methodology documentation can easily lead to erroneous conclusions.

Unintentional misuse of market research is best avoided through effective quality assurance processes and well-documented (and communicated) methodologies.  Making sure report readers understand what types of conclusions are appropriate to draw from a research effort, and making sure results are reported in a precise fashion, are both key parts of managing any market research project.

The harder challenge is preventing intentional misuse.

This is truly one of the biggest challenges for market research managers—preventing clients (internal or external ones) from purposefully manipulating results for self-serving purposes. But wait, is it the market research manager’s job to keep clients honest? Yes, at minimum, to point out inappropriate use.

What’s a market research project manager to do? Here are 2 tips to prevent market research abuse:

  1. Find an executive advocate for the research. Having someone from outside the research function endorse the research does two powerful things. First, it sends a message that the research has value. After all, if an executive is taking the time to digest the results and be vocal about how they plan to use it, it must be important. Second, if the executive is associated with key conclusions from the research, it becomes harder for others to manipulate the results. It doesn’t prohibit the possibility of a constructive debate about how to interpret key findings—which is always to be encouraged. It just minimizes the risk that someone will hijack the project and make inappropriately self-serving conclusions from the data.
  2. Include others in the analysis process. If you know the research is at risk of being abused, make a preemptive move by inviting a team of people to participate in the analysis process. If it’s a quantitative research project, host a meeting where you share a selection of key charts and facilitate an open discussion about their implications. If it’s a qualitative study, you can invite a group to view some video highlights or to receive a preview of selected verbatim quotes; again, to facilitate a group discussion. Including 4 to 8 people in an open discussion about research results and what they mean for the organization is a great way to keep everyone honest—and has the added benefit of promoting the research.

What do you think? Do you agree? Have a different perspective? Please add your comment here, or call the blog comments line at 508.691.6004 ext 703. Thanks!


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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5 thoughts on “Preventing Market Research Abuse”

  1. Thanks for these pointers. I have also come across abuse which was somewhat unintentional – a desire to use a certain sampling methodology that would result in ‘stacking the dice’, although it took some explaining for the client to understand why this sampling methodology would generate a biased outcome. In that case, it took some educating and the client was definitely appreciative of becoming better informed.

  2. When I was a client-side researcher, I found that closely working as a team with stakeholders not only educates them about what constitutes quality research but it also optimizes the actionability of the research results. By working as a team, I don’t mean only in the analysis phase. If your stakeholder wants to be involved, work together on the questionnaire, teach them how to analyze data, and present the results to upper management together. It means giving up some control, which some researchers are uncomfortable with. I never worried that the stakeholders would want to do my job after they saw all the work involved behind-the-scenes!. The team approach also helps ensure that the research department gets a seat at the table in future strategy meetings.

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