Fake News may be new, but fake facts are old.
There seems to be a “fact” about market research that still crops up a couple of times a year, generally when people are trying to avoid a round of research or want to question some findings. The “fact” is that “market research” said that the Sony Walkman would be a failure. The fact dates from the 80’s and the technology has been replaced several times, by the now sadly departed iPod and now by Smartphones, but I still hear it.
I’ve always been amazed that this could be true and wondered what methodology someone could have used to get something so very wrong. After all, surely, if you found a music lover and gave them a Walkman to listen to their favourite tunes, they couldn’t fail to be blown away?
A little research of my own unearths the fact that the Japanese in the 1970’s followed their own style of market research, very different from the qual and quant consumer work we do in the west. This generally involved mid-level managers talking to retailers to determine what the customer’s desires and their future needs might be, rather than specifically asking consumers. And if they wanted to back it up with numbers, they tended to analyse inventories, sales and distribution reports and monthly product movement records. In some markets this clearly worked, Japanese industry was going from strength to strength at the time. The methodology was perfect for the evolution of the company’s products and markets, just blind to revolution and new markets.
We also discover journalists reviewing the product at the time felt that the Walkman would fail as it offered no recording function. Cassette tapes had been recordable from the off and up to that point was their primary function. Losing the record function was felt to be significant at the time. Perhaps this is where the confusion stems from.
It has irked me for years and still does when I hear the research/Walkman story. I’m sure if I’d been given the product to research it would have come back with a glowing report (and at least one order). But then thinking all research, and all researchers are the same is clearly another mistake.
I thought of this the other day when friend told me that he’d missed out on a qualitative research project he’d really wanted to work on. His client liked his approach and had previously loved his work, but the “procurement dept.” had told his client that he had to use another company as they were cheaper. He wasn’t allowed to requote, and also didn’t much want to as the competition had come in some way cheaper.
The client’s procurement dept. had simply looked at an 8 group project and chosen the cheapest supplier. This would of course be sensible behaviour if they were buying a gradable commodity product, say sand or salt. But when you’re buying qualitative research (and quant too) you’re buying people, their brains, their experience, their background knowledge of the sector, skill in moderation and analysis and reporting, presenting etc. And these are all attributes that each researcher will have to one degree or another. But none of these will truly count for anything when the choice is solely made on the bottom line of a quote.
When we’re taking advice from a research company it is a bit like asking for directions, the more important the destination, the more closely you’d listen, but most importantly you’d want to ask the right person. Anyone can offer directions. Be picky about who you ask.
13/09/2017 Jon Taylor