Market Research Failures: Why They Happen

3 Reasons You May Have Been Disappointed with Your Last Research Project

Handdrawn picture of sleeping audience watching lectureConducting Marketing Research, unlike buying a kicky pair of shoes or a nice meal, may be hard to evaluate. The shoes felt great in the store, made your legs look longer, even brought the rest of your wardrobe into this season. But the marketing research project, the one that promised to give you data to base decision making upon, has left you with, dare you say it, buyers remorse.

You did your due diligence, the researcher even had a PhD. Your CEO actually showed up for the readout. Yet you’re not sure it was worth it. Here are some of the possible reasons why.

1. Your researcher didn’t understand your business.

Perhaps you were in a giant hurry and didn’t want to share all of the issues you were having. Maybe the researcher had experience in your industry so you assumed too much. Regardless, once they got into the focus group room, it became apparent that the reason that they didn’t ask the follow up questions you were hoping they’d ask was due to a fundamental lack of understanding about the context for the questions you wanted to understand.

2. You didn’t understand the research.

Smart people may be really good at doing something, but far less good at explaining that something to someone else. Witness the professors I sat through for some of my undergraduate classes. Once I understood that they were tops in research in their fields, and publishing said research was the reason they taught at my university, I understood better why they had tenure despite their less-than-stellar lecture styles. My strategy then was to take down notes and figure it out later.

'Fail' StampBut applied marketing research, the kind that companies pay for, only works when it is clearly and interestingly communicated. Academic language may be necessary to differentiate one research methodology from another. But business researchers must be excellent at communicating their findings, with clear charts, interesting insights, and clear language.

3. You didn’t know what to do after it was over.

Perhaps your last project left you with descriptions of your buyers, and clear insights, but nothing to act upon. Putting all of the data pieces together into understandable findings is just the beginning. Without recommendations that drive marketing action, the research hasn’t paid for itself.

Competence is just the beginning.

Some researchers are just not qualified or experienced to be attempting your project. They may ask leading questions in qualitative research, do inaccurate analysis of unclear survey questions, or even fail to get participants to talk in groups. Obvious market research failures. But you should discuss with even well trained researchers whether their previous clients found their recommendations compelling and meaningful and what they will do to prepare themselves for the work before getting into the field.

All research is not the same. Before you hire your next marketing research company or consultant, ask them questions. And listen to the questions they ask of you – isn’t this what they will be doing for you, after all?

Colorado-based market research consultant Jennifer Cooper leads BuyerSynthesis, helping brands grow revenues by better understanding their buyers. She can be reached at

Photos by Oliver Tacke and Nima Badiey.

1 thought on “Market Research Failures: Why They Happen

  1. Pingback: When Research Trumps Gut Instinct In Decision Making

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