Junk Research Pandemic in B2B Marketing: Skepticism Warranted When Evaluating Market Research Methods and Partners By Bret Starr

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1 Junk Research Pandemic in BB Marketing: Skepticism Warranted When Evaluating Market Research Methods and Partners By Bret Starr

2 Junk Research Pandemic in BB Marketing: Skepticism Warranted When Evaluating Market Research Methods and Partners Table of Contents Executive Summary Quality Research Junk Research Protecting Against Junk Research Conclusion

3 Junk Research Pandemic in BB Marketing: Skepticism Warranted When Evaluating Market Research Methods and Partners Executive Summary Market research is a useful tool to help management make decisions that are too important to leave to anecdotal feedback or gut instinct. Reliable research is precise and uncompromising and avoids common traps such as confirmation bias (the powerful temptation to interpret data as validation of one s existing beliefs). Unfortunately, market research is too frequently performed by inexperienced and unqualified service providers who ignore the basic principles of reliable research. The allure of quantitative data and qualitative feedback is intoxicating and can cause many to leap to enthusiastic conclusions without considering the methodology or source. Unfortunately, we are experiencing a boom in junk research. Simply defined, junk research sacrifices academic rigor for quick profit. Junk research is insidious, producing extremely harmful effects in very subtle and gradual ways. This document is intended as nothing less than a field guide for spotting junk research (whether consumed as a casual reader or commissioned by a company looking for reliable answers to important questions). At the very least, we hope it helps professionals discern junk research when they see it. More importantly, we hope it helps businesses avoid the pitfalls of commissioning junk research and making poor business decisions based on bad data and analysis. Market research professionals and analysts must be held to the highest standards, otherwise the credibility of effective research will be diminished by widespread skepticism and cynicism.

4 Junk Research Pandemic in BB Marketing: Skepticism Warranted When Evaluating Market Research Methods and Partners Quality Research The best way to identify junk research is to explore how quality research is produced. This overview of quality research is not intended to be an exhaustive treatise on the topic. Rather, it is intended to illuminate the most important factors leading to reliable data and relevant insights that drive good business decisions. Methodology Methodology is the framework used by a research firm to guide the entire research process from formulation to recommendations. A thoughtful and thorough methodology is critical because choices made upstream in the research process have tremendous consequences downstream. The list below comprises the minimally viable stages of a comprehensive research methodology (but not the entire range of considerations given to the highest-quality research). Strategic Formulation Research Design Data-collection Methods Sample Design Data Analysis and Interpretation Business Recommendations Strategic Formulation Market and marketing research can be used to answer many types of questions and solve myriad problems, from tracking market share to understanding the attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs of your ideal buyer. But a single research project must be narrowly defined to be effective. Trying to answer too many questions or solve too many problems with a single research project is a formula for low participation, high margins of error, and murky results. Every research project should start with a clear and narrow set of objectives. The process that researchers use to establish research objectives is paramount because it determines the success of every research stage that follows.

5 Junk Research Pandemic in BB Marketing: Skepticism Warranted When Evaluating Market Research Methods and Partners Research Design The design of the research is deeply impacted by the formulation of the research objective. When little is confidently known about the problems or questions being researched, then exploratory research, which includes a thorough review of secondary data (e.g., industry reports, syndicated data, trade literature, etc.), is critical. Exploratory research may also include interviewing industry experts or conducting focus groups. For BB research, official relationships with industry organizations are essential. Data-collection Methods Despite the emergence of big data tools and techniques, it is highly unlikely that the answers to critical marketing questions are to be found in a company s own data. Existing data may be helpful in framing the research, but is unlikely to yield the answer. Most research hinges on primary data collected specifically to meet the objectives of the research purpose. Since primary research is the sun in the research solar system (everything else falls in its orbit), extraordinary care must be given to constructing Since primary research is the sun in the research solar system (everything else falls in its orbit), extraordinary care must be given to constructing the method by which the primary data will be collected. the method by which the primary data will be collected. In BB scenarios, observational data is mostly relevant only for user-experience research. In most other cases, data must be collected through surveys or questionnaires and enriched through interviews or focus groups. Therefore, the construction of the data-collection instrument must be carefully considered. For example, should the purpose of the research be explained? How should the qualification questions be posed? When should questions prompt for answers and when should they be open-ended in nature? These questions represent only a fraction of the consideration that should be given to data-collection methods. Sample Design Sample design must consider at least three elements: () the sampling frame, () the sample selection process, and () the size of the sample. The sampling frame is a list of descriptive elements that describes the population from which the sample will be drawn. With the sampling frame in mind, the sample must be selected and sourced from an unbiased population. Finally, the size of the sample must be appropriate to the gravity of the research. In most cases, margin of error is driven exclusively by the sample size (regardless of the size of the population). Only when the sample is extremely large relative to the population is there a significant impact on margin of error.

6 Junk Research Pandemic in BB Marketing: Skepticism Warranted When Evaluating Market Research Methods and Partners Data Analysis and Interpretation Quality research goes beyond basic charts and banal observations. Data analysis and interpretation is not an art. It s a science. The science begins with validating the raw data to make sure the data is complete and that the instructions were appropriately interpreted by the participants. Then the results must be coded to enable advanced analysis. Finally, the results must be tabulated by calculating the frequency of responses to each question. Coding and tabulation enable advanced forms of analysis, such as the cross-tabulation of multiple variables to identify statistically significant personas. Business Recommendations Researchers have an ethical responsibility to base their recommendations on an objective interpretation of the data. But this is only possible when the entire chain of events in a quality research initiative is followed. It is irresponsible to make business recommendations based on a research project that was poorly framed; was haphazardly designed; used invalid data-collection instruments; relied upon biased data samples; or lacked meticulous validation, coding, or tabulation. Junk Research Junk research represents something far worse than poor judgment or bad business. Junk research puts companies at risk of making bad decisions, and that puts jobs and families at risk. Unfortunately, many independent consultants in the BB world view market research as a lowoverhead business service with high margins and low accountability for the quality of results. That fact combined with the recent extended period of high unemployment has led to an unprecedented volume of independent consultants offering junk research products and services. 6

7 Junk Research Pandemic in BB Marketing: Skepticism Warranted When Evaluating Market Research Methods and Partners Junk research is easy to spot if you know what you re looking for. Here are a few warning signs to look for, whether you are simply reading a research report or considering commissioning a research initiative of your own. Lack of a clearly articulated methodology may imply that a professional methodology was not used at all. When the objective of the research is not clearly planned or stated, it may mean that the researchers are simply fishing for compelling observations that may lack relevance or pushing a perspective meant to subtly influence company executives toward a desired course of action. Research design that seems to deviate significantly from generally accepted best practices should be scrutinized. For example, research designs based on short question sets delivered via social media may be acceptable for straightforward consumer research but are usually not appropriate for producing reliable BB insights. Samples for primary research drawn from free lists, proprietary databases, social media, or the client s own data systems are beyond biased and of little use unless they are studied alongside samples drawn from external, unbiased sources. For example, measuring brand recognition using your own house list as the primary sample will distort results in favor of your brand (and competitive brands that are frequently included in your consideration set). When researchers are unwilling (or unable) to share a raw data file that is meticulously curated, coded, and tabulated, the results and analyses are suspect. The very act of creating a chart is an exercise in bias. Charts are useful tools for the visual display of quantitative data, but must be observed with a healthy amount of skepticism and must be backed with clean data. Access to this data should be provided with little delay if the data has been well organized in anticipation of producing meaningful analysis. Data-collection methods that are shrouded in mystery or otherwise obscured are probably not reliable. Furthermore, the absence of unbiased, quantitative primary research is a huge red flag. Qualitative research should mostly be used to elaborate upon trends discovered in quantitative research and analysis. Qualitative research as the only data-collection method suffers from poor consistency, small samples, interview bias, and anecdotal bias. Finally, when business recommendations flowing from the research seem to confirm either the starting hypothesis of the researcher or the executive team without significant challenges, divergent results, or surprise findings, one should be wary of confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the most insidious of junk research outcomes. One goal of research should be to challenge the deeply held beliefs of the executive team. However, these challenges should be built upon the objective analysis of a well-constructed research initiative, not simply a competing opinion confirmed through biased research construction. 7

8 Junk Research Pandemic in BB Marketing: Skepticism Warranted When Evaluating Market Research Methods and Partners Junk research puts companies at risk of making bad decisions, and that puts jobs and families at risk. Unfortunately, many independent consultants in the BB world view market research as a low-overhead business service with high margins and low accountability for the quality of results. 8

9 Junk Research Pandemic in BB Marketing: Skepticism Warranted When Evaluating Market Research Methods and Partners Protecting Against Junk Research Fortunately, protecting against junk research is easy if you are willing to pose straightforward questions to your potential service provider. If you are evaluating a market research vendor to help you solve a business problem or answer significant questions, don t be shy about requesting the following:. Methodology Ask your researcher to describe their methodology in detail. Request documentation that outlines the methodology. If documentation is not available or if the consultant has trouble articulating a specific methodology, it probably means that one does not exist.. Sample Work Product Ask to review at least three research projects with all of the associated materials that one would expect to be produced during the course of a well-executed initiative. Don t accept the old line, We can t provide you with examples due to the confidential nature of our work. Poppycock! Client names are easily redacted and the actual data is not as important as the evidence that a consistent methodology was applied from start to finish across multiple research initiatives.. References Don t skip this step! Ask to speak with at least three previous clients who conducted their research at least one year ago. The goal of your reference process should be to determine whether an effective methodology was used and if the resulting research product benefited the company in any way. It takes time for research to impact a company, so time and perspective are important.. Partnerships Ask your research consultant about their industry and research partners. Partnerships are critical to accessing meaningful secondary research and gaining access to unbiased research samples. And be sure to verify these partnerships by reaching out directly to the partners named by the researcher. Trust but verify. 9

10 Junk Research Pandemic in BB Marketing: Skepticism Warranted When Evaluating Market Research Methods and Partners. Data Sample Unbiased data samples cost money. And sometimes they cost a lot of money. Beware of researchers who claim to have a proprietary research list or other low-cost methods for sourcing an unbiased sample. Especially in BB market research, access to quality samples cannot be obtained through consumer channels and techniques (such as social media). 6. Bias How does your research partner avoid bias in their research methodology? Familiarize yourself with the many forms of research bias and ask your research partner about a few of them. 7. Raw Data Ask for examples of raw data files that are validated, coded, and tabulated. During your own research project, always request the raw data file. If your research partner is unable or unwilling to provide this file, all analyses and recommendations must be viewed with skepticism. Conclusion The only thing worse than not conducting market research is conducting junk research. At least when research is not conducted, companies are free to follow their instincts and experience. But junk research can often drive companies to pursue strategies they normally would have avoided and may end up causing damage to the company. Market research is a serious business and should only be conducted by professionals and firms who have the experience, skills, and resources to ensure that every stage of the research process is treated with academic rigor and respect for the for prosperity of the company. This is a tremendous responsibility and companies often trust the future of their business to their research partner. More than any other aspect of marketing services, market research vendors should be evaluated with discipline and rigor. 0

11 About The Starr Conspiracy Intelligence Unit There s a new era of enterprise technology that can finally unleash the full promise of human potential. If you re on board, we re ready to get you there. The Starr Conspiracy Intelligence Unit (TSCIU) delivers growth-oriented strategy, research, and advisory services, providing the guidance and key insights you need to grow market share and increase profitability. Let s face it: The protectors of the status quo in marketing fall back on outdated formulas that won t deliver growth and aren t sustainable. We ve seen it before and that approach to marketing is dead. TSCIU takes your business as personally as you do, and we will challenge you to shift your perspective. Most important, we deliver marketing clarity so you can make decisions with confidence.

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