Stop Using Marketing Research like a Drunk Uses a Lamppost

When I started working for Mars, one of my favorite onboarding reads I had to consume covered the dos and don’t of marketing research. Among excellent references to statistical significance, confidence intervals, and the role of probability, the highlight was the image shown below. It pictures a drunk man using a lamppost for support rather than its typical use: illumination. And that’s how we tend to use research with the wrong purpose in mind.

We often ask consumers what we want to hear and are overly enthusiastic when their answers match our needs. A concept validation is mistakenly seen as a sign of research success. We should be disappointed when the research outcome is clean; we should ask for new insights, not a confirmation. Research should be about learning something new. Let’s not forget: we are not the consumer. And if we think we could know in advance what they precisely want from our vantage point, we are maybe wrong.

So let’s start asking more from consumer research; let’s go beyond validation and into illumination. The role of a lamppost is to illuminate the way, even if you are drunk and can’t seem to find yours.

Photo by Sylvain Pitet on Unsplash