Market research and decision making

Market Research can be the savior or your business.  Yet without the ability to think critically think it can destroy your business.

This article reviews the why and how of market research and what it can do for and to your business.

That said, let’s find out how market research can help and hinder your business.

  • Why : Market Research
  • How : Information Sources
  • Wrap up

 

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Why : Market Research

Why bother?

Crossing the Chasm
Ron Mader image from Flickr about Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossing_the_Chasm

The long and the short of it depends on you!  If you’re reading this you’re at least open to the idea that there could be information and ideas out there that could help your business.

You need to identify in yourself where you see yourself as this will greatly influence if you bother or not.

Geoffrey Moore wrote a book called “Crossing the Chasm” which grouped people into different categories to help the sales process.

  • Innovators
  • Early Adopters
  • Early Majority
  • Late Majority
  • Laggards

If you’re to the left of this graph, you’re probably reading this document with a mission in mind.  If you’re to the right of the graph I hope this document helps.

Change is inevitable.  The seconds on a clock only go forward and natural entropy means things have to die to make way for newer living things.

No mater how uneasy this may make you feel burying your head in the sand does not make it go away.

Just to be clear, change makes me feel uneasy.  For years I believed that having a static world was the way to go until entropy caught up with me.

 

Dealing with change

So if we accept that change makes us feel uneasy we have two options.  Pretend it’s not happening, or like risk, mitigate it.

Mitigation is an acknowledgement that something might go wrong and putting plans in place to “make (something bad) less severe, serious, or painful.”

The challenge is finding out what can be a risk.

 

The world as of 2016 had an estimated 7.442 billion people on it according to the World Bank.

Somebody somewhere is changing something.  The Internet also makes the world a far smaller place.

With the ability to send data to anywhere in the world at the speed of light (671,000,000 miles per hour / 299,792,458 meters per second) you can have information from New Zealand with you in less than a second no matter where you are in the world.

Keeping abreast of all the risks might seem like an impossible challenge.  It is.  Yet as people in business we have to be aware / vigilant of our changing world.  Market research broadens your view to include likely possibilities.

Your time to do reviews is also limited so federating your approach is sensible.

 

Critical thinking

Image from http://bit.ly/2O8RQqQ

Critical thinking is defined as “the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement.” So how can you tell if someone is being objective?

Everyone and every business has bias.  It’s part of existing.  Academia is unbiased and factual yet this brings with it a certain level of education that isn’t always accessible to all.

So often we have to rely on half way houses for information.

These sources include newspapers, magazines, journals, discussion groups and associations.  All of which have their own natural operational biases.

 

Having the courage to look at material that comes from someone who you fundamentally disagree with, in the hope of seeing a different approach is sensible but not always easy.

Often fear and more specifically the fear of shame, stifles our ability to see things from someone else’s perspective.

It’s ok to be wrong, it just doesn’t feel like that all the time.  Being able to admit you’re wrong makes you stronger not weaker.  Far easier said than done.

Business does not care about feeling, it is focused on profit, therefore it is up to you to see past your bias to protect your business.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a source which can give you a generally clear view of a situation?  Market research can give you a view, how clear depends on a few factors.

 

Selective attention

 

Selective attention is where you only spot one thing going on when there is a lot of things going on around your.

What do you focus on?

Defined as “the capacity for or process of reacting to certain stimuli selectively when several occur simultaneously.”

Just for clarity I didn’t see the gorilla first time I saw this video.  Its easy afterwards when you’re expecting it.

So let’s point out the gorillas and ensure our market research gives us as broad a view as possible.

 

How : Information sources

The options

So getting a clear view through market research can be done in a few ways.

  1. Firstly surveys.  Ask people their opinion in an open and unbiased way for their perspective.
  2. Next option is statistics.  If you have access to facts / data you can trend and review peoples actions.  This has lead in part to the explosion in data analytics.  Tracking what people actually do.
  3. Also consider education.  Read a lot.  Remain aware and conscious of what is going on in the world as widely as possible.  This includes competitors materials.
  4. News and media provide daily information on changes in the world.  Whilst they may suffer from bias for the most part are reporting change in the world.
  5. Furthermore you could pay for information.  The last option is where you pay a company to do the work for you to return their advice and expertise.
  6. Finally trusted sources.  A person you know who you trust with the key word being trust.

Yet if you don’t have enough data going into the reviews, all of them, or bits of information are wrong, then you will get a skewed view.

Your risk continues and sometimes it can be overwhelming to consider which route to go.

 

Surveys

In academic circles known as primary research.  The effort of asking lots of people questions.

The challenge is writing questions that are objective and then getting lots of people to spend their time answering them.

 

Objective questions are surprisingly difficult to do and require practice and experimentation.  Let’s take a simple example.

  • Is the sky blue?  Answer: True / False

If you’re colour blind how do you answer this question?  People with tritanopia might see the world very differently to you.

  • What colour is the sky to you? Answer: Colour.

Often the greatest challenge with surveys is that you start, get some responses then realise your question is phrased or interpreted wrongly.

 

So you start with a sample to get test your survey.  This process is know as sampling or calibrating.  Depending on how many people are available to answer your survey you’ve just wasted a portion which skews your answers.

Surveys are expensive, complicated and difficult not to have bias in them.

 

Companies offer to pay for their surveys to be filled out… yet this in itself biases the respondents.

Operationally this is one of the most challenging ways of obtaining information for your business.  Yet the results are very valuable.

 

Statistics and Data Analytics

A far more reliable and often more cost effective approach is to collate data into a central place, like a data warehouse.

With all that data in there mathematical and statistical methods can be applied to gain insights.

The challenge with this form of data is that it can only be queries for actions or information on things that have already happened.

Effectively using the past to predict the future.  This approach cannot handle predict data that it hasn’t seen before.

 

Diapers (Nappies) and Beer
Image from http://blog.beau-coup.com/guy-friendly-baby-showers-beer-and-diapers-theme

One of the most famous tales in this area is that of diapers and beer.

If you go into a shop to buy diapers, what is the most common thing also to be found in the shopping?

The most unlikely answer of answers was beer as a result of fathers picking up a six pack whilst sent to buy diapers.

https://tdwi.org/articles/2016/11/15/beer-and-diapers-impossible-correlation.aspx

 

 

So if you’re launching a new product or new approach, your data to model against will be limited.

Yet building rules on, “when we do this it did / didn’t work” are useful to have to reduce risk and give you things to avoid.

 

Education

Again building on the concept of looking back to see forward, education and academia provide proven researched positions on what has and hasn’t worked in the past.

Being able to study a subject will inevitably date with time.

When I was growing up studying I had an active interest in physics and chemistry.  When I first heard of black holes, they were holes in the universe, everything got sucked into them and then disappeared.

Yet along came Stephen Hawking and rewrote the text books.  Actually what goes in gets converted to something else then comes out.

“In 1974, Hawking shocked the physics world by showing that black holes should in fact thermally create and emit sub-atomic particles, known today as Hawking radiation, until they exhaust their energy and evaporate completely. According to this theory, black holes are not completely black, and neither do they last forever.”

So everything is true until it is proved not true.  If you’re building something new, you’re not going to have much data to work with.

 

National media and news

The news and media are companies not charities.  They exist to make a profit for their shareholders, to this end advertising drives large portions of they include or don’t include.

Writing material that would harm their advertising streams are generally avoided.

Like any business they are run by people.  So on certain topics when it comes to religion and politics they can be heavily influenced by owners.

So information you receive from them can be biased in favour of their ideologies.  Even those who seek to deliberately mislead you, fake news exists.  Market research gives you what’s out there but does not filter it for you.

 

The strongest example I know of are the american news networks of

  • Fox News: Staunchly republican
  • MSNBC : Staunchly democratic

Yet for business research both carry useful informational articles worthy of reviewing.

The next two articles demonstrate that relevant material can be available anywhere.

It is importantly to apply critical thinking to articles in the media as how has advertising and position influenced the writing of the article?

 

Paying for answers

Some business invest heavily with academia to answer questions.  Essentially using surveys and primary research in conjunction with eager students who want questions to answer to get their qualifications is definitely a tried and tested approach.

There are however businesses who can do the research for you.

Immediately with critical thinking you can add… they’re paid for their opinion.  Yet for their credibility to be maintained they need to demonstrate a broad approach.

 

I find one source compelling reading.  Gartner Magic Quadrants.

Gartner are a world leading research and advisory company.  They have made a multi billion dollar business from doing market research.

Yet whilst there is no denying they get paid for including companies in their research, a very good advertising revenue stream, they also include businesses who don’t pay for inclusion.  So that their research is complete and broad ranging.

In terms of federated approaches Gartner removes a host of “fishing” for information and can provide a lot of data in one place quickly.  Furthermore their “Magic Quadrant” approach helps to visualise a lot of information in a short space of time.

Here is an example of one of their magic quadrant reports.

Not the only game in town, Forrester and IDC are two direct competitors to Gartner amongst others.

 

In the interest of critical thinking why would I favour Gartner.  In 2017 Gartner listed my company in their research.  Yet we didn’t pay for advertising.  As a result, the compliment was huge and my appreciation for their inclusionary approach left a mark on my opinions.

 

Trusted sources, friends and family

Your existing relationship with a person will taint any interaction before you begin.

Our tendencies are to “spend time with like minded others”.

Though leaders encourage business people to spent time with people who are different from you.

I can honestly say that hanging out with the likes of my fellow directors has given me new direction and insight in my life all of which have been of benefit.

I am definitely a better person for the experiences.

 

Wrap up

I am 1 amongst billions.  My opinion does not reflect the majority, so I have to ask and find out and I may get answers I don’t want to hear.  It doesn’t mean other’s opinions are not true.  I must critically analyse the feedback and make my decision based on facts.  Market research offers me a broader view of the world.

 

I have done primary research in college and for numerous projects and it is not an easy task.   It requires commitment and belief and very strong social networks to help.  Consequently as advice, develop your network as early as possible.

Building data gathering and metric measuring solutions is what I’ve built my career on over the last 2 decades.  There is always a wealth of data in metrics.

I am a life long learner and proud to be.  Every day is a school day and thank goodness it is.

My phone provides me easy access to great news resources, RTE, BBC, MSNBC, Fox, CNN and others.  Learning to scan, speed read and from time to time scan the sections that don’t always take your attention are worth the time investment.

I read my Gartner and when I need to research a project or approach, I scan the web for related historical papers which can influence my direction.

I enjoy talking and exploring ideas, so if there’s anything in this article you’d like to chat to me about you can contact me here or on social media.

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