Marketing Research: Why It Doesn’t Always Work And How To Do It Better

Like many marketers, I’ve had to wade through a lot of research data in my career. While it can be overwhelming at times, I’ve learned a few tricks that can help you figure out what’s useful and what’s not. 

I’ll explain the problems with some of the methods commonly used to gather marketing data, such as surveys and focus groups, and how they can lead to inaccurate results. 

I’ll also share some insights gained from my own work as a marketer: if someone says they don’t like something, ask them how they feel about it specifically (angry vs sad)

How To Do Market Research! (5 FAST & EASY Strategies)
Key Takeaways
Understand common pitfalls of marketing research.
Learn why some marketing research efforts fail to deliver expected results.
Identify factors that contribute to the ineffectiveness of marketing research.
Discover strategies to enhance the quality and outcomes of your marketing research.
Gain insights into best practices for conducting successful marketing research.
Explore alternative approaches to overcome challenges in marketing research.
Improve decision-making by applying effective research methodologies.
Leverage data-driven insights to refine marketing strategies and campaigns.
Embrace a holistic approach to market research for more accurate results.
Align market research efforts with business goals and objectives.

1. Ignore Your Gut And Listen To The Data

One of the biggest mistakes that companies make is to rely too heavily on their gut instinct when it comes to making marketing decisions. While you may have a good feeling about something, data will prove whether or not this feeling is correct.

Analyzing your data can help you understand your customers better and make better decisions about how to market your product or service.

Data can also be used to improve products and services by showing what customers want, rather than just what they say they want.

Building a strong connection with your customers requires understanding their desires and preferences. Discover how to get the clearest picture of what customers want from you by learning effective research techniques. Check out our guide on getting the clearest picture of what customers want to enhance your customer-centric approach.

2. Ask People About The Future

The second mistake is asking people about the future. Asking questions about the future assumes that you know what they think. It assumes that you know how they feel, and it assumes that you know what they want to do.

It’s important to remember that none of those assumptions are true. People can’t tell us everything we need to know about themselves not even when there’s no way we could find out anyway! 

If a person hasn’t taken any action yet, if a person has never been in a situation before, or if a person is thinking about something for the first time, then there’s no way for them to tell us how they feel about it or what their intentions are regarding it until after they’ve done it!

So instead of asking people questions like “Do you plan on buying this product?” or “How likely would it be for someone like yourself (or similar)?” try asking questions like: 

“Have you ever bought anything from us before? How many times did that happen? And how much did each purchase cost?”

Crafting compelling marketing strategies begins with asking the right questions. Learn how to ask questions that provide valuable insights for your marketing campaigns. Dive into our article about asking questions that will help you market and discover the power of informed decision-making.

3. Don’t Ask For Too Much Detail; A Single Small Change Can Skew Everything

You’re probably not surprised that asking for too much detail can hurt your research. But what you may not realize is that even asking for too little detail can be problematic.

It’s tempting to keep your survey questions short and sweet so you don’t overwhelm your respondents or make them feel like they’re taking up your time. 

That’s fine when it comes to the types of questions you ask, but make sure the answers are detailed enough for you to get the information you need.

For example, if someone asked me how many hours per week I spent studying and what type of music I listened to while doing so (as opposed to more general questions).

My response would likely be different than if they asked me how much time I spent studying in total versus listening to music while doing so (as opposed to just getting a yes/no answer).

4. Establish A Baseline At The Start Of Research And Return To It Later On

Establishing a baseline is the first step in any kind of research. It’s also what marketing teams are most likely to do wrong.

A baseline is the state of your business or product before you start running any tests or experiments in other words, what things look like right now. 

It’s an important reference point that will help you understand if and how your changes affect audiences and marketplaces so that when those changes happen, they can be properly evaluated against the original state of things (which we know as “baseline”).

To establish a baseline, marketers should run tests on their own website/app/product (as opposed to conducting surveys or focus groups).

Looking at everything from user experience to conversion rates across different demographics or countries where they’ve got customers already engaged with their product or brand online.

Marketing research comes in various forms, each with its unique benefits. Explore the different types of marketing research and understand why they are essential for informed decision-making. Discover more about 16 types of marketing research and why you need them in our comprehensive guide.

5. Focus On Emotions, Not Data

Did you know that people are more likely to buy a product that they feel positively about? It’s true; buyers are much more likely to choose something if they like how it feels. 

So why do marketing research reports focus on data, when what matters is how people feel about the product?

The best way to understand emotions is by asking questions in person:

  • “What does this product remind you of?”
  • “When did your last experience with this brand make you feel good?”
  • “Which aspect of our company do you think makes us different from our competitors?”

You can also ask consumers detailed questions about their feelings toward different aspects of your brand: The colors of your logo, for example, or the quality and design of your packaging. 

This will give insight into how people evaluate these factors and help identify areas where improvements might be made before they’re even asked!

6. Frame Questions Carefully To Avoid Bias

Don’t ask leading questions. Leading questions can make respondents feel as though they must provide a certain answer, and that can skew the results. 

For example, a researcher who asks “Do you think we should update our website?” is indicating that there is an issue with the current site, which may or may not be true.

Don’t ask questions that are too broad or too narrow. This is one of those things where it’s best to get experience with surveys before trying it yourself; it’s hard to know what kind of question will work until you’ve seen how people respond to different types! 

If your survey has more than five open-ended questions, consider throwing out some of the less crucial ones (or at least asking them later) so that people don’t get overwhelmed by having too many things on their plate at once; 

Similarly, if your survey only has yes/no answers then try adding some open-ended ones to give respondents more freedom when responding and make sure they’re answering honestly instead of just giving you what seems easiest.

Don’t ask for specific details unless they’re necessary (and even then proceed carefully). In general terms, these kinds of questions can catch people off guard because they’re often unexpected. 

This means both positive surprises (eureka moments) but also negative reactions such as annoyance or confusion over why something seems so vague when there’s no need for vagueness in this particular situation!

Reddit isn’t just a platform for entertainment – it can also be a valuable resource for market research. Uncover how to leverage Reddit for conducting insightful market research. Read our guide on using Reddit to conduct market research and tap into a unique source of consumer insights.

7. Think Of Stories You Want To Tell, Rather Than Data Points You’re Trying To Prove Or Disprove

Most people think of a story as something you tell a group, but it can also be something you tell yourself. You might not realize it, but we all have stories that we use to make sense of the world around us.

“Story” is just another word for “explanation.” There are many kinds of explanations: physical, biological, historical, and so on but they all fit into one of two categories: storytelling or reporting. 

Reporting is an explanation without context (often bad). Storytelling is an explanation with context (usually good). 

Let’s take the example of advertising a product or service: “ABC product features X” would be reporting; “ABC product will help you achieve Y by Z” would be storytelling.

It’s important to remember that when thinking about how your research should support your marketing efforts and what those efforts will look like you should always think about the story first and foremost before any other aspect of your plan comes together.

8. Test With Real Users Instead Of Running Focus Groups In-House Or Through Agencies.

Focus groups are a good way to get feedback on ideas, but they aren’t the best way to test them. We have our own biases and preconceptions about what will work with various audiences, and we tend to be overly optimistic about how well something will be received. 

Focus group participants don’t always know what you want them to say, which means you’ll often get answers that are either too vague or too specific. This can lead you down a rabbit hole of testing out (and eventually discarding) ideas that may not have worked in the first place.

If your goal is just getting feedback on an idea (and not testing it), then focus groups can serve their purpose well they’re just not ideal for testing products or services before release in-market. Instead, try using an online panel: 

A properly managed panel allows us access to thousands of potential customers who will give us honest answers without influence from anyone else’s opinion–including our own!

Conducting effective interviews over the phone requires a specialized approach. Learn about the most efficient way to conduct interviews on the phone and gather valuable information for your research projects. Check out our tips in the most effective way to conduct interviews on the phone to enhance your interviewing skills.

10. Watch Out For Observation Bias; If You’re Watching Someone, They’ll Act Differently Than If You Weren’t There At All.

Observation bias is a form of experimental bias, in which people alter their behavior to conform to what they believe is expected of them by the researcher.

It’s often used in psychological experiments, where you have one “subject” and two “researchers” who are confederates (actors working with the researchers). 

In these types of studies, one researcher introduces himself as the experimenter and asks that subject questions while another researcher watches from behind a two-way mirror. 

The second researcher can see everything going on out there in the real world but can’t interact with it; if they want anything changed or adjusted, they’ll have to make it through this first experimenter guy.

Because he knows that someone is watching him work, the first experimenter guy tends to behave differently than he would otherwise: more forcefully, more confidently, etc.

11. If Asking About Things That Happened In The Past, Use Photos And Other Prompts To Help People Access Their Memories

We’re going to take a quick detour into memory studies. Why? Because if you want to understand your customers, an understanding of how people remember and forget is critical.

Memory is like a selective filter: we selectively pay attention to some things and not others, so our memories reflect only the things we choose to pay attention to at the time. 

We also tend to “write over” old memories with new ones as our life experiences change us over time.

So even if you do manage to get people talking about something that happened years ago (as we talked about above), don’t expect them all of their recollections will be accurate or precise.

One way that marketers can help improve recall accuracy is by using photos or videos as prompts for remembering an experience in its entirety instead of asking someone about just one part of it: ask them what they see in the photo/video before asking anything else! 

But keep in mind that this doesn’t always work either: even when people are looking right at something familiar like a picture or video clip they may still have trouble accessing those memories unless they’re actively thinking about them beforehand (which brings us back around the full circle).

12. Dig Deeper Into What People Are Saying

I’m reminded of a study I once heard about where a group of researchers asked people to describe their favorite movie moments in detail. 

They then showed those descriptions to another group of people and asked them if they had any memory of these scenes in the movies themselves. 

Turns out that when you ask someone to just say what they remember, their memories aren’t always accurate but when you ask them to describe specific moments from movies, those memories suddenly become clearer for everyone involved!


Marketing research is poised to play a pivotal role in new marketing strategies, so understanding the causes of common (and avoidable) mistakes and how to fix them will be increasingly important shortly. 

It’s up to us to decide how we want to discover, define, and solve our problems when it comes to marketing: do we want the solution in-house or will we outsource? Using outside resources can be expensive, but they also offer some benefits that can help you: 

Access a wider range of expertise than you have internally, Guilt-free focus and freedom from day-to-day management of your marketing challenges, and More time to develop new concepts and strategies instead of focusing on data collection 

Further Reading

Here are some additional resources to delve deeper into the world of market research:

Guide to Agricultural Market Research: Explore the FAO’s comprehensive guide to conducting effective agricultural market research, providing valuable insights for the agricultural industry.

Expert Tips for Conducting Better Market Research: Gain insights from industry experts on enhancing your market research techniques for more informed decision-making.

Knowing When Not to Conduct Market Research: Discover scenarios in which conducting market research might not be the best course of action, helping you allocate resources more effectively.


What is the significance of agricultural market research?

Agricultural market research plays a crucial role in understanding consumer demands, market trends, and supply chain dynamics, contributing to informed decision-making for stakeholders in the agricultural sector.

How can I improve the quality of my market research?

Enhance the quality of your market research by following expert tips, such as optimizing survey design, targeting the right audience, and utilizing a mix of qualitative and quantitative data collection methods.

When should market research not be conducted?

Market research might not be necessary when there is already ample data available, the research costs outweigh potential benefits, the research question is not relevant to the current context, or the timing is not suitable for meaningful insights.

What are the key factors for successful market research?

Successful market research relies on clear research objectives, accurate data collection methods, unbiased analysis, effective interpretation, and actionable insights that align with business goals.

How does effective market research impact decision-making?

Effective market research provides organizations with valuable insights into consumer behavior, preferences, and market trends, empowering them to make well-informed decisions that drive business growth and success.

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