The anchor: Naresh Gupta on 7 things research will never tell a marketer

20 Sep,2011

No self-respecting marketing executive can live without market research. Market research offers purposeful information to make plans, policies, programmes and procedures for any marketing activity. The market research industry is as old as the communications industry and, many would argue, more important than the mainstream communications industry. Yet there are pitfalls, and things that can’t be foretold. Here are seven things MR can rarely tell.


#1 Reflect reality

Market research is a post facto measurement of what had happened. The common belief is that research data reflects the current reality and hence can be used as a basis for predicting future. If that was the case then well researched brands would have never failed

#2 Predict the future

Research means placing human beings together in one place ask them their opinions and forming that as the basis for predicting the future. This is like saying that if you watch a lion in zoo, you will learn all about lions. The human zoo is no different from an animal zoo, and is rarely the right basis for prediction.

#3 Is never free of bias

Any form of research suffers from investigator bias and statistical errors. Research too is a classic case of stimulus response. The answers depend on what you ask, and that define the findings. Can research ever be free of bias?

#4 Right answers depend on the right questions

The new Coke is the stuff that is now a case study. While the new formulation tested well, scored on blind tastes and passed every test the research industry threw at it, it failed when launched. The consumer was not asked the most obvious question; will the formulation change the brand they love? Do they want the brand to change? The result was a massacre in the market.

#5 No guarantee of success

Testing a new commercial for predicting its success in market is a common practice. It is easy to score a commercial on emotional appeal, on message comprehension, on ability to create perception. Yet more commercials fail then succeed. We all know that, yet we are slaves to practice.

#6 Does not replace experience and gut

We need to remember that research is a tool, and not the decision. A marketer’s gut, experience, market reality are far more important than any amount of research data. Yet the tendency is to live more by research data and less by collective experience.

#7 Quality matters

We all know this.


Yet an average marketer rarely spends time on figuring out who will administer the stimulus for research. Will an average field executive be up to scratch? Will the average investigator strike the right balance of objectivity and expertise? Most researches are spoilt by simple overlooking of this crucial aspect. Next time, pay attention to field investigators.


As a simple test try this, ban MR for a while, live by what you know as a marketer, trust your experience, trust your market feel, trust the hours you have spent in the field. Take the decisions that need to be taken, and use research almost as the last step to check gross negative. You just might speed up the process, learn a great deal more from mistakes, and possibly be more successful.

Experience always triumphs over data.


Naresh Gupta is Head – Brand Strategy, iYogi Technical Services

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7 responses to “The anchor: Naresh Gupta on 7 things research will never tell a marketer”

  1. Amit says:

    When comments from an “expert” are self contradictory, it always makes me think about how management in our industry actually work out strategies, and why they survive.
    Starting in reverse order, woudl like to offer another opinion.
    1. Trust your gut: you are better than a field investigator. Well if both are untrained, in data colelction techniques, I woud rather trust the person wanting to “know” to go in. What is missed out on is that data collection needs to be scientific, else baby may get thrown out with the bath water.
    2. The data, the analysis, and the insight (going by the comments) still do not make the decision. Nor is the “gut” any more than impulsive “data”, an instinct that tells you what is “right”. If one goes by gut, the decision is the gut, instinctive and impulsive, and not a well thought out decision. Bad data makes for bad planing, and no data also makes for equally bad planning (if I may go by my “gut’ in offering this opinion: frankly there is no empricial evidence with me currently on this). Why blame the data entirely for bad decisions, which can be equally badly made good with “good” data?
    3. Testing and data do not make for the entire story of the campaign and the product. Why blame the data for poor implementation of concept/product? Poor decisions and poor decisions are equally visible despite “good” data/analysis.
    4. For instance, is some one out there actually liked that new Coke taste, then why did marketing and operations not find those guys when they actually launched the new Coke – those guys should have bought it if they liked it! Maybe there were (obviously) huge gaps in what was tested, and what stratyegy was formulated. Did they go to the right people (sample of existing brand lovers, if that is whom they wanted to develop the new Coke for). Did they ask about only te taste? or teh whole bradn story? as teh author mentions, they forgot to ask some crucial questions, and that is a major sin in research of any kind. The first step in “research” being, after the problem is framed, find out everything about that problem and restate it as a research and not a managerial question.
    Betrays a lack of uderstanding of research. The author is ight: right questions -right answers is teh whole stuff of Science, including particle physics and biotech and genomics and what have you. If some goofs there, it is not really research, as it is not scientific.
    5 & 6. This lack of understanding may actually have percolated to this article: bias exists, and so does around sixty years of behavioural esearch on countering bias, including statistical and non statistical means – the whole of psychiatry and medical sciences know and deal with this, not just social and management research. Where I agree is that not using this knowledge in our market esearch industry is a crime. Part of this knowledge is also about predictions and thier accuracy: predicting the presence of teh boson used teh same methods as that for teh lepton, which they did “find” with weak statistical evidence but stong theoretical justification, and went ahead and assumed it was there, just a bit shy and hiding from the shining lights of lab researchers. Do we use anything like this process in marketing research? Should we? Is this kowledge available? No and yes: and the answers are obvious to our problems. Predictive analytics never says it predicts 100 % but teh process is the same analytically as for leptons, and are we spending enough money to fund teh right “lab”? That may be a mopre pertinent question.
    Is teh gut better at finding out facts and predicting? Without predicting how do managers take decisions about what brands will acheive in teh next three meonths /years?
    7. Which brings me to the crux: is it teh research data that determines a good decision? Market reality is about market decisions, and not the data: if it were only teh data there would be a piece of software sitting there taking decisions. The decisions shape reality of a brand’s success, ad eth data shapes our understanding of teh brand’s cances of success with various strategies. The linkage needs to be strengthened rather than weakened.

  2. Naresh Gupta says:

    Preethy, my intention is not to hold a mirror to MR agencies, though they too need to introspect, but to hold a mirror to an average marketing bloke who suspends decision making to MR. Such decisions are bound to fail, and then the blame is laid on data. Again the issue is not data, the issue is knowledge and insights

  3. Naresh Gupta says:

    Preethi, data always matters, the issue is the conversion of data into knowledge and then knowledge into insight is a function of experience, intuition and gut. Research can show you the path, research is not the path. Unfortunately research has become the path for many.

    • I agree and very much support ringing an alarm bell on this, sir. A lot of research in today’s date begs to be conducted & used more intelligently. But often, marketers feel insecure about trusting their own judgment & need confidence-building. How confident are today’s young marketers of taking a leap of faith based on field visits & internal mentoring? Systems need to encourage marketers to be more enterprising & for the same, it is a system shift that is required a la – “no, my boy, you cannot hide behind data”. On a separate note, this article also shows the mirror to us MR agencies. A research that lacks sanity is not the marketer’s cross alone to bear. The MR agency also need to take some responsibility to deliver researches rich in context, sanity & insight. My humble opinion is that it takes 2 hands to clap & so, a marketer must be advised of his liberties to 1) limit / expand the role of MR as he deems fit 2) drive the MR agency to deliver sane, relevant & insightful research. It is high time we MR agencies also work towards becoming more relevant – by bringing together a right mix of “objectivity” & “expertise”.

  4. If the intent is to advice marketers against leaning too heavily on “data” to base their marketing decisions, then I am for this. Research obviously cannot do the marketer’s job. However, if the intended conclusion is that market research has no role and therefore needs to be abolished, then no comments 🙂

  5. Sai Nagesh says:

    As usual, good stuff Naresh. keep it up !!

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