The dirty little secret in market research is this: companies waste millions of dollars every year on market research. Anyone who has been in the industry for more than a couple of years can point to any number of classic examples:

– The longitudinal tracking project that has been running for 10+ years, requires hundreds of man-hours to execute, and generates tons of slides just so that one mid-level manager can give it a passing glance.

– The exploratory ethnography project which interviews scores of customers across the world only to provide a litany of ‘insights’ that everyone in the company already knows.

– The qualitative project which is supposedly designed to provide insights into an important decision, but is really a de facto validation of decisions that the organization has already made.

As we snicker and knowingly roll our eyes at these examples, it’s critical to recognize that the prevalence of this type project represents an existential threat to our industry. Let me say that again: this is an existential threat to our industry. Hyperbole, you say? Perhaps not. While there are plenty of examples of legitimately valuable research, the persistence of pointless research makes it increasingly difficult for companies to justify spending money on research at all. In an act of collective self-preservation, client- and vendor-side research should enthusiastically embrace Nancy Reagan’s famous motto. We should just say no to market research that does not meet the following criteria:

– Drives organizational change that is worth at least three-times the cost of the research investment

– Introduces new insights that do not already exist within the organization’s collective wisdom

– Is devoid of any individual’s political motivations that are not in the best interests of the organization. This topic came up on a recent conversation with one our clients who said, “I will often recommend that it’s not worth it to do research. I don’t think it hurts the value of research. I think people respect someone in the research department who can be honest enough to say it’s not that important. It can garner more respect.”Just say no.

Dan Callahan is the President of Vivisum Partners and Founder of Research (R)evolutions.

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