Market ResearchMarket Segmentation

Why “Marketing” is Hard for “Market Researchers”

cobbler-at-work-with-old-toolsPardon the use of quotations, but I am trying to make a point.

Numerous articles have been written, and debates engaged, about the question, “Are market researchers bad marketers?”  It does strike one as odd—that a profession so driven to understand customer attitudes and behaviors, can’t seem to apply the discipline for its own marketing—and ultimately revenue-generating—benefit.

Three great articles have poked at this issue this past year, by Edward Appleton, Ron Sellers, and Dana Stanley.

Is it just the case of the cobbler’s children having no shoes?

Well, I got a big clue earlier this month.  I won’t name names, but I heard a researcher from a well-known firm talk about their, “new approach to market segmentation.”  And about ten minutes in, I reached three conclusions.

  • Yes, his company is doing some cool stuff to leverage social media research to gain insights about specific target markets
  • But he was using the term “segmentation” incorrectly; his methodology is about profiling existing, known segments previously identified by his clients—not discovering the best ways to segment a market. What his firm is doing is profiling, or creating personas as some prefer, but it is not a “segmentation study.”
  • And apparently his clients don’t care.  His firm is apparently doing very well selling segmentation studies that rely on “listening” to social media—not asking questions. And on profiling segments; not defining them.

I have to say, this speaker deserves major kudos for understanding his market segment; that there are a lot of marketing decision makers who want fast, social media-based profiling of their existing segments. This guy understands what his market wants, and he is giving it to them.


So what did this all teach me?

Often, making a complex thing really simple is what leads to marketing success.  A classic example: for years AOL was the preferred email platform of choice for the average American consumer; we techie types cringed, but the masses loved it.  And unfortunately, the masses don’t always appreciate the brilliance of more complex products—or in our case, of more rigorous market research.  Calling a profiling study “market segmentation” may make researchers cringe, but to a lot of people who buy market research, it may be just fine.


[Want to learn more about market segmentation or other market research topics? Click here to request Research Rockstar’s class catalog today! Now, available in print and by download.]



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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