So, when will The Apprentice stop badmouthing Market Research?

Victoria Bennett, research manager, discusses the bad rep market research seems to be getting in TV lately and gives a step by step guide into getting market research right.

It’s that time of the year again (don’t worry Bethan, this is not a Christmas blog…) – the nights are getting longer and colder, we’re bunking down and watching more TV, and market research is getting its annual bashing on The Apprentice. However, I’ve noticed it’s not only The Apprentice that seems to be badmouthing the good name of market research at the moment.

In a couple of my other current favourite TV programmes, I’ve been surprised to hear market research being referenced – in Nashville for example (an unlikely context in a drama series about country music), and in Modern Life is Goodish where Dave Gorman spent a whole episode of his series talking about how, as a nation, we’re obsessed with market research.

When watching these, after my initial reaction of ‘Woo! Market research, that’s what I do!’ (you can’t blame me. It’s not exactly a career that gets much press outside of elections and referendums…) I tune back into what is being said about my profession. As you might have guessed, what they’re saying about market research is rarely positive.

In The Apprentice, market research is often considered an inconvenient and annoying time waster, always conducted badly and always ignored.

apprentice 1

In the Nashville episode, market research findings were angrily discussed by a fading country music star who didn’t want to hear the bad news revealed.

And Dave Gorman spent a whole episode taking market research findings out of context and making them extremely funny, but in the process, making the research seem very silly and pointless. Here he is talking about the YouGov profiles tool.

It all left me a little disheartened that market research was being sullied in this way, albeit by non-experts who have probably never seen good market research in action or the positive outcomes it delivers.

I think market research can be portrayed in this negative way for several reasons:
  • If it’s not done right, it doesn’t serve a purpose and deserves to be ignored (case in point – most of the market research they do in The Apprentice) – in our office we label this “rubbish in, rubbish out” (well, maybe in slightly less polite terms!). Have-a-go heroes, be warned!
  • If it provides bad news, often people don’t want to hear the truth (case in point – Nashville)
  • If it’s taken out of context, results are meaningless (case in point – Dave Gorman)

So how can we reassure the casual observer that market research isn’t the farcical, pointless exercise that TV makes it out to be? Well, by proving to you and our clients that when executed correctly, it’s a critical business tool. One that provides knowledge and reassurance to make strong business decisions. One that enables organisations to develop and deliver services, products and communications that are aligned with customer needs. And ultimately, by delivering a return on investment far exceeding what was initially spent on the research.

“We have saved in excess of £2m throughout this year by introducing the new switch functionality which came out of Mustard’s research. The number of customers saved is in excess of 1,500. An average saving per policy has been calculated at £1,100.” – Christine-Ironfield-Smith, Insight Manager, Aviva UK Life

Here is a quick “how to” guide on avoiding the most common pitfalls that can contribute towards giving our industry its bad reputation. Contact us if you need more.
  1. Define your objectives. What questions do you need the research to answer and how will the research be used by you and the business? Make sure you can explain to someone why you’re doing the research and what you want to get out of it. If you can’t, you might be in danger of doing the following…
  2. Don’t do pointless research that doesn’t engage or make a difference to your customers. This will only annoy your audience and any research that they complete is likely to be inaccurate, rushed or overly negative. Speaking of your audience…
  3. Understand who you need to conduct your research with. Do you need to explore the results by any particular groups? Is there value in researching not just your customers, but prospects too? Do you need an international view? Once you’ve decided this, please make sure you…
  4. Do it before you need it! It’s frustrating how often I’ve been approached to do research where the research requester has already reached a conclusion but they want the research to prove it. This isn’t the way it works, it has to be the other way around. You can use market research to test hypotheses but not to prove something you’ve already developed. Bear in mind though…
  5. Don’t always do it as a one-off. There’s value in conducting research to address a specific business question, yes, but it’s also incredibly useful to track performance over time – for customer experience, product performance, brand health etc. A lot of changes over time can affect your business – customer motivations, behaviour, situations and the market landscape, and it’s important to understand whether your product or service is still relevant.

Market research might not be coolest kid in the playground, but it remains our mission to prove to the world that it is critical to long-term success, and not the farcical waste of time as portrayed by certain TV shows. Who fancies pitching a TV show to oppose some of the negative press about our industry? Perhaps a series of ‘Market Research Off’, whittling down researchers doing show stopping research projects to find the ultimate market researcher? Well, it would give Mel and Sue something to do now anyway.