Market Research

What is Market Research Success?

At last week’s MRA conference in Boston, I heard a speaker assert, “Market Research has been on the sidelines for 3 decades.” Being an analytical sort of person, this made me wonder: how was the speaker defining “sidelines”? So I asked him. His position is that market research is on the sidelines because when market research data is presented to the CEO of a company, it is usually not being presented by a market research professional. It is more often presented by someone else, often a VP of marketing.

Based on his definition, the speaker is correct. But, in my opinion, this definition of research success misses the point. Market research success is not defined by who “sits at the table” or who gets the glory.

Market research is successful when it leads to decisions being made and actions being taken. The research is the star, not the researcher.

When we deliver a market research project and no decisions are made nor actions taken, we fail. And it has repercussions. The next time a study is proposed, the audience knows that research can result in wasted time and money—after all, they have seen it happen before. They invested the time and money in a study, got the results, and did nothing with it. Maybe the research was great, but it doesn’t matter. Nothing happened.

But when we do research and the CEO, marketing VP, sales VP, or anyone else cites it when making a decision or taking an action, we are successful. Would it be nice if someone with a market research title were in the room during critical decision-making? Yes. But if we have done our jobs, we have communicated the research’s results, the conclusions it supports, and relevant context around reliability.  The marketing VP doesn’t have to be a PhD in statistics to use it or represent it. If he does, we haven’t done our jobs.

Before we researchers complain about “not having a seat at the table” or “being on the sidelines” we need to ask ourselves: have we done everything we can to make our research results the star?


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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2 thoughts on “What is Market Research Success?”

  1. Too often researchers miss the opportunity of effectively communicating research findings. Conventionally, findings are presented via PowerPoint in a linear fashion and didactic style without any consideration of the learning needs of the management teams and organisations.

    Debriefs should be more than presenting the results and the conclusions the results support. It needs to be a fusion of reflection by management in the context of their experience and theory; for management to take account of factors beyond the conclusions of the results and develop their own action plans to get buy in. Do the findings fit in with existing knowledge and what management and organisations already know?

    The process needs to be interactive, appropriate to the learning needs of the client and sensitive to the context of the project.

    The role of the researcher therefore, is more than just presenting the findings and conclusions but, more a facilitator bringing and using collaborative skills to achieve buy in.

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