Most marketing professionals are very knowledgeable about their marketplace. This is their passion, their focus and their life’s work. The nature of this closeness to the market, however, may result in difficulties with observing subtle changes in market thinking. Because marketing managers are focused on their target market, they may not take a step back to take a more global view.
Good marketing professionals have relationships with key thought leaders in their field, who may themselves be biased in their views. Marketers often spend a lot of time conversing with a small segment of the market on a routine basis and do not obtain the opinions of the larger, more diverse market.
Unbiased Market Assessment
Unhampered by the corporate culture, a marketing research firm can provide an objective, unbiased view. Often, research firms confirm the company’s market assessment, but if they do not, they are not politically at risk for providing dissenting, non-party line opinions.
Example: My research company was conducting focus groups for a medical firm developing a battery-operated resection device. When the surgeons saw this product, they disliked it. It had few redeeming features and was considered awkward to use. The surgeons summed up the product by calling the design… “Mickey Mouse.” I reported this product review back to my client and although he was disappointed to get the news, he thanked me for uncovering the surgeon’s honest assessment. A company employee could have been rebuked for providing such a dissenting opinion. This unbiased research led to a product which never made it to market and saved the company thousands of dollars in product development.
There are times when a company wants to gather market data secretly. They do not want to tip their hand as to the technology they are investigating. Additionally, they would like to prevent their competitors from picking up any clues about their market direction. This is particularly true when developing new products. A company must be able to test new ideas without their customers or competition identifying them as the developer. One certainly would not have wanted their company name associated with that “Mickey Mouse” product, even though it never got to market. Market research firms provide anonymity and do not reveal the name of their clients.
Example: When telephone interviewing physicians, many want to know which company is behind the research. As interviewers, we tell them that the client company name cannot be divulged for fear of biasing the research. If the physician persists, we tell them jokingly, “We could tell you the company name, but then we would have to kill you.” That usually gets the point across.
There are two major reasons why companies hire outside market research firms: (1) for unbiased information gathering and (2) for blinded research.
The most common motives for conducting research are to assess a new technology, validate a product design, develop a value proposition, gather competitive intelligence, uncover product or service improvements desired by customers, and investigate a company’s image in the marketplace.