"Market research is a waste of time"
Imagine hearing that while sitting in a marketing class, listening to a late '90s hipster-ad-exec type.
Yeah, I smirked, and I looked over and saw the marketing prof smirk also.
I will always remember that phrase, which was spoken by a guest speaker at an upper level marketing class I took while at Portland State University. The speaker was a bigwig at Weiden & Kennedy.
Mr. Anti-market research followed up his blasphemy by saying that if we wanted to understand people (AKA "market research") just read good novels. Fiction as a means to understand human behavior.
I love to read. I read all kinds of stuff, including novels. I hear his point - but I'm not sure about how applicable this is. However, market research is definitely a double-edged sword as well.
I have always loved research.
I have a minor in sociology, so I love research that tries to profile groups and tell stories about what types of features, products, or advertising messages they would respond to. I have always found these studies fascinating. I have spent a great deal of my career performing, planning, interpreting, and analyzing all types of research. Focus groups, printed surveys (old school!), ethnography studies, mining secondary research for relevant nuggets (my most popular activity), customer support logs, online surveys, etc. All can be very useful. All can be a complete waste.
The trick for me has always been patterns, and who is saying it?
Sometimes people who aren't your target audience will be very vocal about something. This presents some special challenges - who are these people, how/why did they get your product, and, most importantly, how are you going to treat this input?
As you are noticing, this is a long and involved topic all by itself. But one of my goals with this blog is to give folks some "thumbnails" in regards to marketing.
In regards to Market Research:
1. Stay focused on what problem you are trying to solve. Sometimes you are just trying to understand/wrap your head around an issue. Sometimes you have a very specific question you need answered. Either way, make sure you aren't forcing yourself into a decision-making situation using "research" that was never meant for that function.
2. Be open-minded. This is the most common error I've seen. Don't jump to conclusions, be as empathetic as possible. This is actually going to be its own blog post. No joke.
3. Don't wait for all the information. You're never going to have all the information. This is a business truism, and a life truism. Risk exists, and there are always trade-offs. As they say, if it was easy, everyone would do it. Do your best with what you have, and when the deadline approaches, make the best decision you can. Just beware of the ramifications and weigh them accordingly.
4. Remember biases. Biases exist in many shapes and sizes. Biases are pervasive and color our lives. Don't forget one of the most common biases - the bias of ommission. NOT revealing things is also a bias. Anytime you are asking people about things you're going to get all kinds of baggage. Don't try to over-analyze this, just keep it in mind and learn what you can.
5. Use research to springboard. Anytime you are doing research, file it away and refer back to it periodically. This is a great way to spur new ideas for products, messages, marketing programs, or just to find new ways to think about things.
In summary, there's a time and place for market research, and there are good and bad ways to apply that research.
BTW If you are interested in reading an "official" definition of Market Research...