The Limitations of Market Research in Brand-Building

Don’t get me wrong; I love my research. In fact, according to me it is absolutely essential for any brand that wants to go out and talk to the consumer. It does however, get a little tricky, when the brand owner’s solution to any problem (potential or existing) is “Let’s go out and ask the consumer”.

The potential of the mighty consumer insight is, however, limited. With that being said, I’m going to try and identify the limitations of market research:

1. It will Suggest, not Decide: Any research will leave you with a plethora of possible solutions to your marketing problems. It will offer predictions and suggestions, but it will not tell you which is the best way forward for your brand. Here is where you need to step in as the brand owner and decide what’s best.

2. It will Measure the Past, not the Future: No amount of statistical analysis or data cuts can predict the future. Research will not account for natural calamites, a new government rule that threatens to ban your product’s existence or a competitor that offers the same product at less than 50% the cost of your product.

3. It Assumes the Sample is the Population: This is the basic problem with any market research. Just think about it, you plan to target 30 Million Households based on research conclusions from 1000. Generalizing this data for the population as a whole does hold a certain amount of sanctity but only if brand owners don’t cheap out on the sample size.

4. The Consumer’s Research Face: Dr. Gregory House once said “Everybody Lies”. An executive driving a Hyundai will say he is driving a Honda and a housewife who weighs 70 kilos will claim to be 60. There is always a say-do gap in research and no amount of questionnaire modifications can nullify them.

5. Researcher Bias: Having an opinion is human nature. Particularly when the data must go through the researcher’s mind before it’s put on paper. The Chinese whispers starting with the consumer and ending up on a research report is the reality of any qualitative research.

Market research as a tool is probably marketing’s greatest invention. It provides a certain amount of credibility to your market strategy before you go out and spend millions of dollars. But the belief that research can provide a comprehensive understanding of behavior, and that this understanding can be used to manipulate buying behavior can be very deceptive.

In other words, what market research cannot do is provide a solid, 100%, fool proof plan of action that guarantees marketing success. Let research be your guide, while your judgment leads the way.