The Paradox of Quantitative Surveys & Market Research

I was in a meeting the other day with a group of very accomplished Advertising and Marketing colleagues when the subject of surveys and focus groups and market research came up. And it was quite fascinating to see how everyone in the conversation seemed to wrestle with how they felt about it.

On the one hand, we all agreed that DATA held the potential to be a breeding ground for client equivocation and indecision. Why? Because we all know that data should only ever be a piece of the puzzle – and when it conflicts with other pieces, that can just create a raft of problems. While at Nickelodeon, I remember the story of a tv pilot that all the development executives loved and were certain would be the next big thing… right up until it bombed in the focus groups, leading to the show’s demise. Was it that the executives were wrong all along and needed the focus group to slap them back into reality? Maybe. But then how do you explain all the tv shows and products and ad campaigns that test well only to bomb in the marketplace. So maybe the execs were right all along and should have ignored the focus groups. Except, there are countless examples where the focus group process was ignored (or simply overridden) – and the product still bombed. Or, as Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

On the other hand, we all concurred that there are advantages to having something that quantitatively tracks audiences and/or consumers. Look, at the end of the day, until you’re out there in the market (with your product, or message, or brand), you can’t really know how people are going to respond it.... And while a survey isn’t perfect – some would argue it’s far from it – it is at least ONE way of getting the message out to people and getting some kind of response back. Not to mention, gut instincts and keen market insights can only go so far. At the end of the day, we view the world through our own personal bias. And so, to go back to Henry Ford’s quote, the truth is that history is littered with business owners who didn't ask people what they wanted, and their products failed miserably as a result.

As for StormCellar and where we fell in this debate - it is our blog after all - I am of the opinion that some amount of market feedback is critical if only because, in the end, our clients are making products for their customers - and it is crucial that there be some kind of feedback loop to insure that the story and the product are effective. What that feedback pathway should look like is entirely dependent upon the situation...