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Why Cheap Marketing Research Leads to Expensive Mistakes

Let’s say that you’re a brand manager presenting research results to a room full of senior executives.  Which of the following situations would you rather face?

  1. You are explaining data results that you derived from a free online survey platform. You feel great. (What’s not to love? Management now has pages of data at their fingertips.)  Then suddenly, they start to question your methodological approach, inquire why you asked certain questions, and they start paging through the deck looking for insights and relevant recommendations.  Uh-oh – panic ensues as you grasp at straws attempting to validate your efforts.
  2. You have a team of professionals at your side leading senior executives through validated research findings that provide actionable insights in a concise manner. The questionnaire was carefully crafted by experts, programmed using the latest technology, fielded with a nationally-respected panel, and the data was analyzed by professionals using the most advanced tools and techniques.  You’re able to easily answer who, what, when, where, and why, and it is easy to convince your bosses that the findings are legitimate.

You may think the answer to the above situation is obvious – who wouldn’t rather be in the second situation?  Well, recently, the research industry has seen some companies attempt to handle their research needs in-house by replacing expert market research teams with cheap solutions such as free online survey platforms and digital analytics tools.

The Harsh Reality

The truth is, very few businesses have the expertise to take on all of their market research needs in-house.  Making do-or-die business decisions with insights derived from improper market research techniques is a dangerous practice.  More and more often, companies fail to make good decisions because they are relying on seriously questionable data derived from lousy marketing research.

It’s not to say that bringing marketing research in-house doesn’t make sense for everyone.  After all, some companies are actually aware that monadic design isn’t a type of wallpaper.  However, this is often not the case, and turning to the appropriate resource is critical for not making catastrophic business decisions.

Where Most Teams Fall Short

There are too many to name them all, but below is a list of the most common shortcomings of amateur researchers:

  • Experience across a variety of methodologies – Knowing when and how to use certain research methodologies is one of the first steps to ensuring project success. For example, research among patients regarding a new cancer treatment takes a completely different approach than research to understand consumer preference for a new soft drink.
  • Questionnaire creation – This is one of the worst offenders, and the marketing research industry can spot an amateur-drafted questionnaire from a mile away. (Trust me, some of these surveys are so bad that experts laugh at them.) My five-year-old son is a master at asking questions.  No lie – I field hundreds of questions on a daily basis. (Did you know children ask 288 questions a day? [1]) But does that mean that I would trust my son to ask questions that will get my clients the answers they need?  Absolutely not.  The same goes for an online questionnaire template.  Blindly trusting a cookie-cutter questionnaire to get the answers you need is just as bad as having my five-year-old craft your questionnaire.
  • Empirical knowledge of what measures work/don’t work – It is always important to think about the back-end analysis and what you are looking to answer when you are at the beginning stages of research. Make sure your team has the breadth of experience and knowledge to know what measures to use and when.
  • Programming expertise – Surveys are dead in the water if there is a programming mistake. We have seen clients attempt to program their own survey and the result is often tragic. Imagine trying to draw results from a study where one of the tested designs never properly showed to the online participants.  It’s not a situation I would wish on anyone.
  • Knowledge of sampling techniques and sources – Sampling the right audience and using reliable sample sources is important when fielding any survey, but it is also necessary to have measures in place to catch fraudulent activity among research participants. To put it in perspective, we throw out about 17% of respondents in our online surveys for dishonest answers. Without knowing how to catch bad data, marketing research has no integrity.
  • Data solutions – Weighting is another common mistake that novices often make. Using incorrect weighting or no weighting at all can completely alter results.
  • Advanced analytics capabilities – There are few in-house teams equipped with the knowledge to utilize advanced techniques such as logit, structural equation modeling, adaptive conjoint, discrete choice, and response simulators to squeeze the most out of their data and get the answers they really need.

Take a Moment

There are many questions that you should ask before making crucial business decisions, but a good place to start is to ask yourself:

  • Does your team have the expertise and resources to implement the most effective tools and techniques?
  • Can you effectively and easily manage all aspects of the research process?
  • Do you know the right questions to ask to develop meaningful insights?
  • Will your research provide actionable results?

Be Careful

In today’s instantly gratifying digital world, it is easy to get caught up in the sea of available quick, low-cost options, and the appeal is undeniable.  Our warning is this: cheap solutions are NOT synonymous with expert marketing research, and cutting corners can be a costly mistake. 

You don’t want to end up like the brand manager in the first scenario!  Make sure that your company is not sacrificing the quality of your research for cheap and unreliable “quick-fix” solutions.


We’d love to hear your thoughts.  What do you think the biggest advantages (or disadvantages) are to using a marketing research firm?

If you’d like to learn more about Brandware Research, contact us here.


[1] “Littlewoods retailer survey finds mothers asked 228 questions a day” news.com.au 29 March 2013. Web. 16 June 2016.  http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/parenting/littlewoods-retailer-survey-finds-mothers-asked-228-questions-a-day/story-fnet085v-1226609073893

Is Your Brand Tracker Old-Fashioned?

Checking the Pulse of Brand Trackers

As marketing researchers we often ask questions like: “What brands do you think of when you think of tennis shoes?”  After all, according to canonical theories of brand marketing, we need to identify what brands come to mind when thinking about a particular category… don’t we?

Typical brand trackers include measures such as unaided brand recall, brand preference, and brand associations, and those measures certainly serve a purpose. But isn’t it appetizing to think that brand trackers could provide much more? Perhaps even results that brand and marketing managers could actually act on?

We thought so. So naturally, we did some research.

Where Did Those Measures Come From?

Brand health trackers use measures that are based on the traditional brand marketing concept, the “consideration set[1],” which is defined as a subset of brands that consumers seriously consider when making purchase decisions within a category.  Therefore, with the consideration set in mind, the classic, “What brand comes to mind…?” question is completely valid.

But, it Depends

Who remembers that one provocative classmate that always answered questions with, “It depends”? Well, the same goes for brands that come to mind for a consumer.  In reality, the consideration set is populated by brands that a consumer recalls for particular situations. For example, when I think of tennis shoes in general I think of Nike, Asics, New Balance, Mizuno, Reebok, and Adidas. But when thinking of serious running shoes I think of Mizuno; and when I think of casual tennis shoes, I think of New Balance.

So, the better question becomes: Why do so many researchers ask only what brands come to mind when thinking of tennis shoes in general? Isn’t it more useful to ask what brands come to mind when thinking of reasons why consumers actually enter the tennis shoes category in the first place?

Memories Matter

The answer is YES, and the key to unlocking this priceless information is to consider the way that we recall memories[2].  Consumers derive relevant answers based on their own experiences; and obviously, every category has unique cues that consumers call on when they need to make a purchase decision within a category.  Through a disciplined sequence of qualitative and quantitative research, brands can map their performance (i.e., captured mindshare) across the most relevant category buying cues.

What Does it all Mean?

Mixing a bit of category buying behavior into your brand health tracker makes a powerful and delicious cocktail that can give you the information you need to grow your brand.  Imagine the gold mine of information that can be uncovered when brands identify and measure the pervasiveness of various category buying cues. Managers who understand which cues offer the most potential and the mindshare captured by their brand for each one will be a step ahead of the game.

This post barely scratches the surface of the incredibly complex mind of the consumer and how we can better harness the power of category behavior. If you’d like to learn more, contact Brandware here.

[1] Howard, JA & Sheth, JN. The Theory of Buyer Behavior. John Wiley & Sons. New York. 1969. 
[2] Tulving, E & Craik, FIM. The Oxford Handbook of Memory. Oxford University Press. Oxford. 2000.