Marketing Research

Understanding Consumer Behaviour

I’m teaching marketing research this semester, so it was with great interest that I read an article in October 2010 Harvard Business Review, entitled “Reading the Public Mind.”  It points out that the traditional random sample telephone survey is looking obsolete, due to the number of people switching away from land telephone lines, and the lack of consumer interest in cooperating with marketing researchers.  Not only is the accuracy declining, the cost of telephone surveys is increasing as participation declines.

The big problem for both political pollsters and for businesses is that the alternative survey methods are not particularly accurate.  For example, most online survey companies have panels of volunteers. Recent research suggests that these panels are not even close to being representative of the general public. They are more likely to be white, English speaking, higher educated and have higher incomes.  People on these panels are also more likely to be “professional” survey respondents, and more likely to lie in their responses.

So what is a marketer to do?  At least in the short-term, we’re going to have to rely on judgment.  And perhaps in the future, social media may provide us with powerful predictive tools.  Recently a US study indicated that Twitter might be an effective tool to predict US elections.

In the meantime, we’re going to need to deal with more uncertainty in our marketing research data, and be more skeptical of research results.  Which means that product development is going to become a riskier proposition.  We’re going to have to build more empathy for our customers, and really get to know them well.  At least then we can minimize the risk.

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