“The science of psychology in traditional marketing research provides a great complement to what can be measured.” – Eric Bradlow, Professor of Marketing, Statistics and Education, Vice-Dean and Director of Wharton Doctoral Programs, and Co-Director of the Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative

After all of these years proving ourselves, do we market research pioneers still have to explain why “doing your homework” pays off? – not only in ROI, but in long-term planning, futuristic opportunity and, of course – the almighty advertising dollar which is spent frivolously unless managed meticulously under the research microscope.


In an article published by the Wharton Digital Press, a case study on 3-D and its “failure to launch” exemplifies the disconnect between some manufacturers and real consumer needs – not just “want to haves” – but “must haves”. The launching part comes when consumers actually PURCHASE the product, not just say they want it or need it. The disconnect is due to the lack of controlled and intelligent market research in which a rich science of buyer psychology is embedded in design.

“It is a sad state of affairs. Market researchers [are] the ones holding up the light so we could see an otherwise dark world,” says Wharton marketing professor Peter Fader.(https://marketing.wharton.upenn.edu/profile/193/)

And indeed sad it was where, in the annals of product launches, the advent of 3-D TV won’t go down as a high point in consumer love-at-first-sight. “The product first drew hype, then modest sales. But after five years on the market, the format has stalled. One mass-market manufacturer, Vizio, announced with the new year that it has pressed the pause button on 3-D. Major content providers ESPN and the BBC have discontinued 3-D TV program development.”

The question – and the answer – lies in whether companies are still willing to invest the kinds of resources in the ambitious quantitative and qualitative research necessary TO UNEARTH MEANINGFUL ANSWERS. What happens more and more now, Fader notes, is “people say, ‘Let’s just try stuff and see what works.’ It’s a widely held belief that it has become much easier to test things IN market [i.e., by saying,] ‘Let’s put out our concepts and see what gets clicked on the most.’” That doesn’t help your engineers design what could have been the BEST. By conducting meticulous and uncluttered research and determining underlying drivers that cause people to click, we can develop better products and services.

And that, my friends, must be designed by RESEARCHERS who spend time, energy and academia studying psychological drivers and behaviors – not an intern in the marketing department moonlighting on Survey Monkey.

Part of the problem with research today is a lack of definition. Fader says, “I have a fairly crisp definition, which is assessing consumer preferences and attitudes. Basically you are doing surveys about what customers are thinking and making decisions on that basis. I don’t count any of the big data or data mining. That’s not market research – just the opposite!”

“Let’s marry what people are doing with what people are saying.”

The end of the tale is a sad one. But not unexpected if you work on the premise that ANY company no matter WHAT size MUST “do its homework” and conduct research to examine price points, competition, awareness and perceptions and myth from reality in a world of gimmicks and short sales cycles. “Analysts and trade press attending the International Consumer Electronics Show last year in Las Vegas delivered last rights to 3-D after Vizio dropped 3-D TV’s and instead began promoting ultra-high sound resolution ‘4K’ television sets.

There has been much consolidation in our industry but manufacturers and service providers alike are seeing the great value in boutique research firms offering fewer services and doing them very well. It is hard for clients to resist the “siren call” of the conglomerate consulting firms, but the merging of traditional market research wisdom with the raw muscle of big data will yield quantitative and qualitative riches.

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