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Why is Market Research the Biggest Enigma of Modern Day Business?

An “enigma” is defined as something which is mysterious or puzzling. To many in business market research is an enigma – when is it used? Who uses it? Why would it be used now when we have been functioning just fine without it? 

Part of the problem is that market research is often not thought of as a central business function, and at best will fall into a peripheral part of Sales, Marketing or Customer Experience. It doesn’t receive a lot of its own airtime, so it’s often not seen to be necessary for the day-to-day running of a business. Indeed, when there are times of budget issues, market research is often one of the first to fall in the line of fire. 

However, market research is (or should be) considered to be the backbone of any strategic decision. It is the most precious source of information, because it is the only data source that a business cannot generate themselves using their own internal data. It sheds light on what people actually think and feel, rather than simply looking at the actions they have already taken.

Despite it being a precious commodity, there is generally a distinct lack of knowledge about what market research is. This really came to the fore for me when a client recently said ‘I’d love to know more about market research, and what you do more generally’. 

Why is there an enigma around market research?

This ‘enigma’ is the challenge faced by market researchers today. Those who don’t use research in their business decisions often have questions around why they would need it: how do you know the right questions to ask,  where do the answers come from, how is it collected, and how do we interpret it? Plus, the big one, what do research consultants do?

Some of this lack of understanding comes from:

  1. Teams not knowing how to access market research in a way which suits the business, because of time or cost perceptions (thinking it takes too much time or costs too much money, or both!)
  2. A narrow view of what business questions market research can be applied to 
  3. Never having seen how research “works”, as client-side research teams and marketeers will have historically been responsible for conducting the research and disseminating results

The big questions

  1. When should you use market research?: Whenever you need a consumer perspective. A business built on assumptions will not survive; testing concepts and learning what is popular, exploring perceptions of your brand, and knowing how your creative has actually worked all needs to come directly from the consumer’s own voice.
  2. What is the purpose of research?: Enable businesses to pose questions to target consumers, in order to meet an objective. Research can be used to answer questions about market sizing, scoping, NPD, creative and concept testing and brand tracking, to name just few areas!
  3. How are responses collected?: Most market research is now carried out using online sources – this can include collecting responses from panels, forums and communities. With Attest, online surveys are created and sent out to the desired audiences – people only answer the survey who meet the demographic specifications you’ve asked for, e.g. females aged 18-34 who have a dog. 
  4. How quickly can you get results?: These days, everything is needed yesterday. Most traditional market research agencies will have long turn-around times for projects as they involve more supplier management and processes, which depend on several streams of people working together. However, there are a few players in the market (including Attest) which are agile survey platforms, meaning clients can create their own questions, send them directly out to an audience and receive results back all in a matter of hours, when it used to take weeks. 

How do we break the enigma around research once and for all?

It’s simple. To prevent research being seen as a mysterious source of information, we researchers should be empowering  more people to get familiar with running market research and using the results. 

It should be democratised so everyone in the business, regardless of department, can see the value of what it brings and understand how it works. 

It needs to be shouted about because research represents consumer voices – that precious data point that is not sourced within businesses, yet provides the reality about what your consumers really think and feel. This then allows businesses to make better strategic decisions, based on having this real consumer truth. 

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