Common Market Research Pitfalls
To ensure relevant and actionable market research, be careful to avoid mistakes. Even a small error or oversight could spell disaster for the results of an otherwise well-designed study. Here are some of the most common pitfalls that inexperienced researchers make:
- Understanding your objectives – One of the biggest (and most cited) mistakes that a researcher can make is failing to clearly identify the specific goals of the research. Valuable research needs to have clear and well-defined objectives. Are you trying to understand purchase behavior and the key drivers to selecting a specific brand? Evaluate the potential viability of a new business initiative? Understand your position or perceived value in a given market? Unless you know the question(s) you’re trying to answer, your study may fail to provide an actionable result.
- Identifying your target audience – It is critical that your study sample is representative of the audience you are studying. Gathering information on an audience that is not fully reflective of your target will yield inaccurate results. A target is typically identified following demographic and psychographic parameters outlined in its marketing plan. Taking shortcuts, such as using convenience sampling, or using the most readily available means to collect your sample, can take away from the representativeness of your target and introduce sampling bias into your results. For example, if your target demographic is 18-24 year olds, recruiting respondents only from college campuses may skew your results, as 20-year-old college students may differ attitudinally from 20-year-old working adults in key ways.
- Ensuring an appropriate sample size – A small sample size in a quantitative study can negatively impact research results in two ways. The first is that a small base size makes it harder to identify meaningful differences in the data, making it difficult to draw conclusions. Also, a small sample could lead to misleading “insights,” as outliers or anomalous responses will have a greater impact on the data, which can skew the results. The same can be said for extrapolating qualitative results to the general population. Focus groups and in-depth interviews are invaluable tools for discovering the reasons and motivations behind certain behaviors or opinions in ways that quantitative research can’t, but information from 10 interviews is not enough to apply frequency data about your entire audience.
- Using the appropriate research methodology – Every research method has benefits and drawbacks, and is uniquely capable of extracting different types of learning. Starting a research effort with an “I want to do a survey” mentality may distract you from exploring whether another method would be more appropriate. If you want to learn why sales of a particular product decreased, surveying only customers may not be as helpful as including past shoppers, or conducting in-depth shop-a-longs with past customers. The optimal design might include a combination of current and past shoppers, and a combination of qualitative and quantitative techniques to identify reasons for the change in behavior or attitudes. It is critical to explore your options and understand the strengths and weaknesses of each methodology to meet the objectives of the study.
- Using an optimal research instrument – Once you’ve chosen the proper methodology, the next step is calibrating your instrument. Whether it is a quantitative survey or a qualitative interview guide, attention to the details are important to ensure quality results. For example, multiple choice options need to be exhaustive of all possible responses and mutually exclusive of each other. Scales should be balanced and intuitive, and should include “neutral” responses and “I don’t know” or “not applicable” options when appropriate. Repetitive questioning can be frustrating for respondents who may get fatigued and not want to participate further. Questioning should follow a logical structure and sequence, typically from general to more specific. Using loaded or emotionally-charged words, or asking leading questions like, “wouldn’t you prefer,” can bias the responses. “Double-barreled” questions such as, “Do you speak with your financial advisor regularly and subscribe to the monthly newsletter” or using industry language/jargon can lead to confusion and ambiguity in the responses. A well-developed and fine-tuned instrument is a necessity for any research effort.
- Don’t ignore your results – The last mistake you can make with your market research is to ignore it! Don’t let all your time and hard work go to waste. The best research in the world is meaningless if you don’t learn from it and put it to use.
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