Every Marketing Researcher’s Biggest Nightmare

You may not know it, but you’re probably doing something right now that’s driving a marketing researcher batty. Maybe it’s the way you decided to wait until the last minute to buy a plane ticket. 

Maybe it’s how you live-streamed that recent episode of Game of Thrones even though your friend told you about how HBO was going to offer free access for a weekend only a week after the show aired. 

Or maybe it’s just how little attention you pay to ads in general. After all, if someone asked whether an ad caught your attention, could you recall anything from it?

Whatever your unconscious quirks and predilections may be, one thing is clear: as more and more people take their lives online and ditch traditional means like TV or radio completely, marketers’ jobs are becoming increasingly difficult. 

Marketing researchers are scrambling to keep up with consumer behavior changes as in-person interactions become less common than ever before and data points emerge in new ways outside of focus groups or demographic research studies. 

In this blog post, we’ll dive into why that is and what marketers are doing about it.

EXACTLY how I do market research for new products – YouTube
1. Marketing research nightmares often arise from biased data collection and misinterpreted results.
2. Inadequate sample sizes can lead to unreliable insights and flawed decision-making.
3. Ensuring actionable insights from research is essential; otherwise, efforts might go to waste.
4. Poorly designed surveys can result in data that doesn’t accurately represent target audiences.
5. Skepticism and thorough validation of research methods are crucial to avoid falling into research pitfalls.

Your Sample Is Not Working

This happens to the best of us. What do you do?

Change your sample. If people aren’t responding to your ads, it might be time to change what you’re offering you may have the wrong target audience, or maybe they don’t even know about your product yet! 

This can be frustrating (and costly), but it’s better than wasting time on a campaign that just isn’t going to work. 

The last thing you want is for someone else’s bad marketing plan and lousy targeting methods to rub off on you!

Change your target audience. If the problem seems like it might be with the kind of people who are coming across your ads, try targeting a different demographic with slightly different messaging until something clicks! 

It could be as simple as switching from targeting moms-to-be into focusing more broadly on expecting parents; or if none of those profiles seem right either way, just try something new altogether! 

There are tons of ways that any given situation can affect how effective an ad will perform within its context.

And sometimes all it takes is some creative thinking outside traditional norms like age ranges or gender roles for things suddenly become more successful than ever before at reaching their potential customer base. 

Online surveys can be a powerful tool for gathering insights, but there are numerous factors that can impact their effectiveness. Check out our article on The 13 Reasons Why Your Online Surveys Don’t Get the Results You Want to understand the common pitfalls and how to overcome them.

Your Questionnaire Is Weird And The Participants Are Confused

Nobody wants to waste their time. If you’re asking someone to participate in a study, the last thing you want is for them to feel like they don’t know what they are getting into and then drop out halfway through.

To avoid this nightmare scenario:

Make sure your questions are clear and easy to understand. Keep them short, simple, and specific; ask only one question at a time; use plain language rather than jargon or technical terms; 

Don’t assume anything about the way your participants think about things outside of your topic area (e.g., if you’re researching how people use social media apps, don’t ask participants whether or not they have a Facebook account).

You Don’t Have A Clue What Your Data Means

You’re not sure if you’re collecting the right kind of data.

You don’t know how to analyze it.

We’ve got good news: All three issues are related, and once you understand them, they’re pretty easy to correct. To make sure this is clear, we’ll start with a quick definition of the terms:

A hypothesis is a statement about how things work in the real world that can be tested with evidence or research. For example, “I think people who drink more soda will have higher blood pressure.” In this case, we would hypothesize that “drinking soda causes high blood pressure.” 

This is also known as an explanatory or predictive hypothesis because it explains why something happens by connecting two variables drinking soda and having high blood pressure together in cause-and-effect relationships; 

Alternatively, we could call this functional when talking about statistical models (more on this later).

A null hypothesis states what you expect to happen based on previous experience if there’s no actual effect taking place (in our example above: “No relationship exists between drinking soda and having high blood pressure”). 

In other words, it’s often used as a baseline measurement so that any significant changes between groups can be detected easily without having to do much analysis work yourself! 

Another way of thinking about null hypotheses is as counterfactuals “what would happen if this wasn’t true?” They must always accompany an alternative explanation/explanation range/hypothesis because they help us determine whether one thing caused another thing

Wondering if marketing research is essential for your business? Dive into Marketing Research: Need It? Here’s 15 What You Need to Know to explore the key aspects and insights that highlight the significance of conducting effective marketing research.

There Are No Participants

As a market researcher, you are in the business of finding people who can provide insight into your topic. Let’s say you’re working on learning about how people feel about a new restaurant opening in their neighborhood. 

You want to know if they like it, what they think of the food, and whether or not they will go back again. But it turns out that no one is answering your calls or responding to email messages. How do you get around this?

If this happens to you, don’t panic! Many things can be done when participants aren’t coming forward:

  • Reach out more often
  • Be more creative with where and how to find participants (think social media)
  • Work harder at getting them interested in participating (use incentives)
  • Persist through occasional frustrations and setbacks

Your Respondents Did Not Understand Your Questions (Again)

There are many ways to make sure you are asking the right questions. One is to make sure that you are asking the right people, and another is to make sure that you are asking the right people the right questions at the right time. 

That all sounds pretty intuitive, but there’s a surprising number of marketers who get these steps wrong and it’s one of their biggest marketing research nightmares!

In some cases, this can happen because someone else has written the survey instrument itself. 

So if you’re handing over control of your survey creation process entirely or partially to an outside agency (recommended), make sure they are experienced in writing surveys as well as administering them and analyzing data from them after they’re complete.

Every marketing researcher gains valuable insights along the way. Discover The 11 Lessons Every Marketing Researcher Should Learn to uncover some of the essential lessons that can help you navigate the challenges and opportunities in the field.

No Pilot Test

This is the biggest mistake I see researchers make. You need to test your survey before you send it out, and there are many ways of doing so:

Ask a few people if they would be happy to fill in your form and get their honest opinion. This will help you work out if the language and questions make sense, or if any changes to the design are needed.

Try using your company database as a test panel, asking them for feedback on what they think about specific subjects (e.g., “Would you recommend our product/service?”). 

You can also use this method for other types of research such as focus groups or user interviews where there may not be enough time or budget to set up an entire dedicated panel.

But still want some valuable insights into how people use products or services in real-life situations

Halfway Through The Survey, The Respondents Started Dropping Out Like Flies

Let’s say you’ve just launched a new survey. You’ve spent hours crafting the perfect questions, which are all aimed at finding out whether your product is actually what people want. 

The first few respondents answer these questions with flying colors: they’re interested in your product and understand exactly how it will help them solve their problem! 

After that, however, things start to go downhill quickly. Halfway through the survey with no change in question type or order, the respondents start dropping out like flies. Why?

What happened? A lot of research companies would blame bad luck here: maybe there was something wrong with the demographic profile of their participants (i.e., they weren’t representative).

Or maybe they got unlucky when assigning individualized links to each participant (i.e., some didn’t click on one). 

But I think it’s safe to say that most researchers have experienced this situation at least once during their careers and if you haven’t yet but expect someday soon, this article should help prepare you for what comes next!

For Some Reason, Nobody Opted In To Participate In The Focus Group

It’s particularly frustrating when you’ve spent a lot of time and effort planning your research, recruiting participants, and setting up the technology to run the study. 

Then you hit that one roadblock: nobody opted in. For some reason, people don’t want to talk about your product or service even though they said they were willing to participate in focus groups with strangers on the internet!

The good news is there are steps you can take to ensure that only people who want to be there show up for your research. Here are some tips for getting more people to opt-in:

Make sure your survey is short and sweet about ten minutes should do it if it’s an online survey; otherwise, try 30 minutes or less for phone surveys (you’ll need more time if participants need training). 

If everything takes too long, people will get bored and drop out before they finish everything up. 

Try sending a quick welcome message right after someone signs up; this way, even if they don’t finish the survey right away (or ever), you can show them that someone has been taking care of them along the way and make sure their feelings aren’t hurt by being ignored for days at a time!

Consider offering incentives for completing certain tasks like clicking on links or answering questions this way there are tangible benefits beyond just being “nice” about it all! 

This might include access codes/coupons good toward future purchases as well as coupons good toward food items like pizza rolls from Pizza Hut® restaurants nationwide.

Misconceptions can hinder effective decision-making. Learn about the common myths surrounding marketing research in our article, 15 Lies We Are Told About Marketing Research, and gain a clearer perspective on best practices.

All 200 Of Your Open-Ended Questions Were Answered As ‘i Don’t Know’. Or Worse – Blank

Open-ended questions are a force to be reckoned with. They’re great for getting people to open up and share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. 

But sometimes, it’s just not in the cards for them to give you an answer that answers your question. Or worse – they don’t even know what your question was in the first place!

Here’s why:

  • Your research objective wasn’t clear enough
  • Your research question was too broad or vague
  • You didn’t have a hypothesis (or even know what one is)
  • You didn’t have an appropriate design

You’ve Been On Hold With The Same Customer Service Rep For 30 Minutes Now And You Can’t Get Your Participant List From Last Month’s Study

You’ve been on hold with the same customer service rep for 30 minutes now and you can’t get your participant list from last month’s study. The worst part is, it’s a known problem! 

That same participant list was never sent to your office, even though you specifically requested it at the end of the study. You’re stuck trying to remember if any respondents, in particular, would be useful to contact again for additional data points.

Is the only thing worse than this nightmare scenario? Finding out that not only has your participant list never arrived but also you have received another copy of it but this time with all the names in alphabetical order instead of numeric order as they should be! 

You have no idea who any of these people are … or if they even exist at all! And just to add insult to injury? When you finally manage to talk with someone and explain what happened, they tell you “we’ll send out an updated copy right away.” 

But when? They don’t know! It could take days or weeks before anyone even figures out where exactly their mistake occurred; by then it could be too late. What if some other researcher needed those data points today? Would they ever get them now after waiting so long already?

The possibilities are endless when things go wrong like this: maybe your product arrived later than expected; maybe it didn’t arrive at all; maybe someone accidentally switched orders around because two researchers ordered from each other’s websites (yes, this happens). 

Or maybe one respondent received more incentives than another one did because their survey completion rate was higher (or lower). 

It doesn’t matter how many times I say “it won’t happen,” because sooner or later something will slip through the cracks somewhere along our chain of command and then we’ll both be left wondering what went wrong

Sometimes unexpected experiences provide the most valuable insights. Explore how a personal journey with technology led to marketing revelations in 17 Years Ago I Bought a Digital Camera: Here’s What It Taught Me About Marketing, and discover the lessons that can be applied to your marketing efforts.

You Never Got Around To Writing Up A Proper Moderator’s Guide For That Focus Group You’re Moderating Later Today

You’re a moderator, and you need to know what you’re going to ask.

  • What are the questions?
  • How will you ask them?
  • What if there’s an unexpected response? Do we have a plan for that?
  • Are the participants comfortable with our methods, or do we need to make adjustments for them?

And then there are all these other questions:

What should happen when filming begins or ends? Will each person signs a release form before participating in our study.

So that we can use their likeness in future ads/videos/whatever other marketing materials they’re featured in later on down the road after this particular focus group has wrapped up. 

Or should they just fill out said release forms at end of the day once all data has been collected (and thus recorded) because doing so beforehand would take up too much time during filming and break up conversation flow between moderators and participants? 

Also, who is responsible for collecting those signed releases after filming finishes up today (you guessed it you!). And lastly but most importantly: 

Who’s going to tell these people “no” when they ask “How long do I get paid?” even though they’ve already been compensated via check mailed three weeks ago?!


The bottom line is that all the best marketing research in the world can’t fix a bad campaign. If you’re going to ask customers to tell you how they feel, you have to listen to what they say. 

It’s easy to get caught up in the creativity of your work or assume that customers aren’t telling the whole truth, but at the end of the day, market researchers are only as good as their data. 

The more real-world experience and honest feedback we can collect from consumers about our products and services, the more successful these products will be when they reach the market and it starts with taking an honest look at ourselves and our creative process.

Further Reading

Explore more insights and perspectives on marketing research challenges and solutions from these additional sources:

5 Marketing Research Nightmares That Keep Me Up at Night: Delve into the world of marketing research nightmares and gain insights into common pitfalls to avoid.

Top 5 Market Research Problems and Solutions: Discover the top challenges faced in market research and explore effective solutions to overcome them.

The 10 Biggest Market Research Fails of All Time: Learn from historical examples of market research failures and how to prevent them in your own strategies.


What are some common nightmares in marketing research?

Marketing research nightmares can include issues like biased data collection, insufficient sample sizes, misinterpretation of results, lack of actionable insights, and poor survey design.

How can I address problems in market research?

To address market research problems, focus on robust survey design, representative sampling, unbiased data collection, thorough data analysis, and clear communication of insights to stakeholders.

What are some solutions to market research challenges?

Solutions include leveraging diverse data sources, using advanced analytics tools, collaborating with experienced researchers, incorporating automation, and constantly adapting strategies based on changing market dynamics.

What can we learn from past market research failures?

Past failures highlight the importance of rigorous testing, avoiding assumptions, understanding the target audience, and continuously refining research methodologies for more accurate results.

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