By John Burns
Kitchen hacks, decorating hacks, menu hacks, everything has a hack to make things easier these days.
Market research is no exception. Many market-research hacks, however, create more problems than they solve. Although these hacks are in common use, they are not recommended practice.
Here are three market-research hacks you should avoid.
Asking Respondents How Much They’ll Pay for a Product
This question is direct, quick, and easy. It’s also notoriously unreliable. Most people answer by saying a lower price than what they would really pay. They do this because they think your company might someday bring the product to market at whatever price they mention. Far safer to say a lower price, therefore, than risk saying a higher one and having to pay that amount later.
Other techniques work better than directly asking customers how much they would pay. Conjoint and monadic price testing, for example, are reliable quantitative methods for evaluating price. In qualitative research, a better approach is to ask customers what makes the product valuable to them. When appropriate, another qualitative approach is to talk about pricing models, such as whether a one-time price or a subscription would make more sense.
Putting as Many Questions as Possible in Your Survey
Surveys are time consuming and costly. It might seem like good idea to ask as many questions as you can, maximizing the amount of information you get in return for your efforts. Unfortunately, this is a bad idea. Long surveys can result in a high rate of drop-offs, where respondents start your survey but don’t finish. This leaves you with incomplete and often useless data. In addition, long surveys can lead customers to respond using mindless zig-zag or straight-line patterns, rather than carefully considering their answers to each question. Long surveys can also call into question the quality of your sample: who has the time or attention to take long surveys? Those willing to do so might not represent the market as closely as you think.
Limit your surveys to 20-minutes or less. The quality of your survey data will improve, and you can have greater confidence that the results you get are accurate.
Using Qualitative Research to Identify What’s Important to Customers
Many companies rely solely on qualitative research – such as one-on-one interviews or focus groups – to identify what’s important to customers. They count the number of times customers mention an issue or problem, and they refer to the most frequently mentioned items as the most important. This approach seems logical, but it’s incorrect. The items that customers mention most frequently are top of mind, but this does not mean they are the most important. Why? Customers are imperfect and often forget to mention things, even very important items. In addition, research moderators are imperfect, and they often fail to ask the right questions to get customers talking about important issues.
The right way to establish what’s important to customers is to conduct a quantitative survey after you’ve completed your qualitative research. In a survey, customers can see all the items the qualitative research has uncovered, and they can judge the relative importance of each in an unbiased way. In addition, your sample of respondents for a quantitative survey is larger and more representative than a qualitative one. This ensures you’re learning what’s important to all your customers, not just a select few.
Avoid using these three market-research hacks. They can result in unreliable or misleading information. Once this information finds its way into a report, it’s often too late. The incorrect results become the accepted view of the market, and they potentially serve as the basis for business decisions involving large investments of time and money. Rather than use these hacks, take on the extra time, effort, and cost required to conduct research the right way. Your business is worth more than a few quick-and-easy research hacks.
Learn more about conducting research the right way in our Listening to the Voice of the Customer course, taking place in Chicago on October 10-11.
 Griffin, Abbie and John R. Hauser, “The Voice of the Customer,” Marketing Science (Winter: 1993 Vol 12, No. 1), pp. 18-19.