Why I Don’t Use Consumer Data For My Research

A lot of us feel like we need to justify the methods we use when we do our research. For example, I’ve often thought about taking a survey for a project I’m working on, but the idea never feels right to me. 

That’s why I prefer using other methods. Here are some reasons why consumer data isn’t always reliable:

Using Qualitative Data To Understand Your Consumer
– Consumer data may raise ethical concerns.
– Relying solely on consumer data can limit perspectives.
– Alternative research methods might offer fresh insights.
– Privacy and data security are critical considerations.
– Combining multiple data sources can enrich research.

People Lie

You know the old saying: “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.” But in this case it’s not so much a lie as a refusal to be honest a willful misunderstanding of what your data is trying to tell you.

It happens all the time in consumer research: participants are confused by some question or other and either don’t answer at all or answer with a nonsensical response that they think will make them look better (or less stupid). 

Or they don’t want to hurt your feelings by saying no point-blank they choose “Maybe” instead of Yes or No because they’re afraid that if they say yes then maybe you’ll stop asking questions and send them home early. 

To avoid these embarrassing gaffes from happening in your surveys and interviews.

Make sure that your respondents understand how their answers will be used before you begin taking demographic information about them so there’s no room for doubt about how reliable their responses may be!

Starting marketing research without proper insights can be challenging. Read What I Wish I Had Known Before I Started Marketing Research to gain valuable lessons from others’ experiences and make informed decisions.

The Data May Not Be Complete

The data is only as complete as the people who respond to it. That means there’s a chance that your consumer research may not be as accurate as you think it is.

For example, some people won’t respond to surveys or they’ll lie about their answers to look good or feel included in the process. There are also many reasons why consumers might not tell the truth: 

Some of them might have been embarrassed by something they did or said in the past; others may want to avoid confrontation; still, others might just be oblivious about how their actions affect other people. 

And while some of these issues can be addressed through statistical analysis, there’s no way around the fact that you’re taking a risk when you use this method of gathering information about consumers’ behaviors and opinions.

People Have Selective Memories

When you survey people, they’re not going to remember everything. Think of all the times you’ve looked at a receipt and thought, “I spent how much?” Or when you get a reminder from your bank that you paid for something in March but can’t remember what it was for?

It’s easy to forget the details of what we buy and don’t buy if we don’t care about them (like most household items) if we don’t understand how they fit into our lives (like insurance), or if we’ve been trying hard not to think about something (like an ex).

Skepticism is an essential trait in market research. Learn how to Always Conduct Your Market Research Studies with a Healthy Amount of Skepticism to ensure your research is grounded in critical analysis.

People Don’t Know Why They Do What They Do

As a researcher, you know that it’s important to understand your audience. You might think you know why they do what they do, but in reality, the reasons are often surprising.

People can be wrong about their motivations. They can also be wrong about the reasons they did something or the way they think of themselves. And even if you ask people directly to explain themselves, there’s no guarantee that their answers are true or accurate (or even close).

Research Can Be Misinterpreted

Research can be misinterpreted. Research can be biased. Research can be misunderstood, or even misused to make bad decisions by those who are supposed to be making good ones in the first place. 

Even if you’re a regular person, and not an elected official or CEO of a large company or an influential figure in politics.

You have probably been exposed to some bad-research-related news story at some point in time that left you shaking your head at how easily people get fooled by statistical data.

Problems Can Look Bigger Than They Are

The problem isn’t that there are problems. The problem is that people seem to think they know how big the problems are, and they’re often wrong. For example, let’s say you’re a marketer trying to figure out how many people will buy your product. 

You might ask your company’s data scientists for help, and they might tell you that roughly 10 percent of all customers abandon their shopping carts before completing payment.

Now what? Well, lots of things could happen: Customers could abandon their cart because this particular product isn’t right for them or because they’re not ready to buy yet;

It could be something with the checkout process itself (e.g., it takes too long); maybe it’s just an error on the website’s part; maybe some other reason entirely; etcetera etcetera etcetera…

In other words, this single piece of data doesn’t mean much in isolation there are dozens of possible explanations for why someone didn’t complete their purchase at this particular moment in time.

When presented with a particular offer on a particular website on top of whatever else was going on in their lives that day.

But when taken together with all sorts of other pieces of data (and preferably before making too many assumptions), then we can get somewhere useful!

Prioritizing your research efforts is crucial for efficiency. Explore 11 Questions to Help You Prioritize Your Next Marketing Research Effort to identify key focus areas for effective results.

People Can Be Intimidated By Researchers

You might be wondering, is there a valid reason to use consumer data for research? Sure.

For one, it’s harder to get people to talk about their habits with you. If you’re conducting a survey in person or over the phone, it can be intimidating for your respondents to say that they spend more than $200 on groceries every week. 

They may think that this makes them look bad or stingy in front of a stranger even if it’s true!

If you’re collecting information online through a website form or app, disclosing personal details like this might feel less intrusive because there’s no physical presence. It’s also easier to record people’s responses (like when they click an answer) instead of asking them questions directly.

Some People Don’t Respond To Research

The first reason why some people don’t respond to research is that they simply don’t have time. This happens when I’m trying to reach a specific demographic like, say, unemployed men who own dogs and blue jeans because my sample size isn’t large enough.

The second reason why some people don’t respond to research is that they don’t trust it. They think that the data will be misused or misinterpreted by the company in question, so they just opt out of filling out surveys altogether.

The third reason why some people don’t respond to research is that they dislike being asked questions (or are just shy). 

This happens often with me when I’m doing personal interviews at a store or restaurant: customers will look around nervously before telling me that no one has ever asked them what kind of coffee drink they like before!

Humans Are Lazy

When you ask people to do something, they will often not do it.

This is not a revolutionary concept. It’s been studied by psychologists, economists, and marketers for decades. But there are a few reasons why this is important to consider when designing surveys or experiments. 

First of all, if people don’t want to do something (like filling out your survey), then they won’t do it. Even if the task itself is easy (like clicking one button), you’re competing with other things that are more enjoyable for them (their Netflix queue). 

This means that if you ask your respondents to fill out your questionnaire now as opposed to later in their day or week when they have time on their hands, you’ll get different results than if they had simply filled it out right away. 

Secondly, asking them to take an action makes them aware of what actions they could be taking and that awareness can affect subsequent behavior in ways we don’t realize at first glance

Unconventional experiences can teach us valuable marketing lessons. Discover insights from 17 Years Ago, I Bought a Digital Camera. Here’s What It Taught Me About Marketing. and gain new perspectives for your research endeavors.

Consumers Are Not Your Customer

I have a confession to make: I don’t use consumer data for my research.

I know, I know it sounds crazy. But hear me out! As a brand strategist and increasingly a design strategist, one of the most important things I do is understand who my audience is and what they need from me as a brand or business owner. 

To do this, I must understand where they are at in their journey what stage of life they’re at, what motivates them and what worries them, how they spend their time and money…and on and on.

But when it comes down to it (and trust me when I say this is something that takes years to get right), there just isn’t enough room for nuance in big data sets like Experian’s ConsumerView™ or Nielsen’s Measurement Database™. 

And while they’re both incredibly helpful tools if used properly by professionals with tons of experience analyzing such information (which neither myself nor any other solopreneur has).

Trying to draw conclusions about people based solely on these kinds of datasets ​just won’t give you the insights that impact your bottom line​ the ones only human beings are equipped with providing!

Consumers Aren’t Representative Of Your Audience

It is important to consider that consumers who take surveys are not representative of your audience. You may find that the people answering surveys are more interested in them than your average customer. 

That’s because people who respond are often more educated about the topic at hand, or even more open to change than those who don’t take time out of their day to do so. 

Also, since you have limited responses from each source (a sample size), there will be outliers who skew results towards positive or negative reactions.

Your Research Is Only As Good As Your Questions

I’ve seen people do a lot of interesting things in the name of research and design, but one thing that I consistently see is that in many cases, the process gets in the way of actually finding answers. 

It can feel good to have all these tools at your disposal to be able to do quick-and-dirty surveys or A/B tests but it doesn’t always lead to better results. The best researchers understand this and focus on getting clear answers rather than pushing for numbers or clicks. 

If you don’t have control over what’s being tested, then how can you know whether or not any changes will make a difference?

Research should come before everything else before product development, marketing campaigns, design decisions… anything! You need someone who understands where they’re going so they know how to get there; otherwise, there’s no point in even beginning.

Consumer Data Isn’t Always Reliable

Consumer data is not always reliable. Here are some of the reasons I don’t use consumer data for my research:

Consumer data may be inaccurate. The information that consumers provide about themselves often has to be edited, corrected, or even discarded because it’s incomplete or inaccurate. 

For example, if you ask people to enter their birth date and they forget to include the year, that could be misleading when it comes time to analyze your research results. 

Or if you’re looking at demographic characteristics of car buyers and find that one in five of them is female but then have a look at their profile and discover they are male.

You’ll know something went wrong somewhere along the line because there’s no way 20 percent of car buyers are women.

Survey respondents may lie when asked questions about themselves; they might say they have earned more money than they did just so as not to seem ashamed or embarrassed by their financial situation; 

They might exaggerate how much money they spend on specific items such as food because people who own expensive cars tend not to want others thinking that makes them poor financially; etcetera).

Understanding the value of proper training is essential in research. Explore Why Marketing Research Courses Are So Incredibly Valuable to see how investing in education can enhance your research capabilities and decision-making.


I’m not saying consumer data isn’t valuable. It is. Just as observation is a valuable tool, so too is consumer data. But let’s face it, most people don’t understand their motivations or have the time to think through their responses to things in any detail. 

I do realize that my views are somewhat controversial, but here’s my take: Consumer research is great… if you know how to interpret it correctly.

Further Reading

Explore these resources to deepen your understanding of data collection, customer data usage, and marketing research:

TechTarget – Data Collection: Learn about the significance of data collection in various contexts and its role in modern business operations.

Aberdeen – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Using Customer Data for Marketing: Delve into the nuances of using customer data for marketing purposes and discover the potential benefits and challenges.

JSTOR – Research on Consumer Data and Marketing Strategies: Access academic research on consumer data and its implications for effective marketing strategies.


What is data collection and why is it important?

Data collection refers to the process of gathering relevant information and facts to make informed decisions. It is crucial for businesses to collect accurate data to understand trends, make predictions, and improve decision-making processes.

How can customer data be utilized for marketing?

Customer data can be used to tailor marketing campaigns, personalize experiences, and target specific audiences effectively. However, ensuring ethical and secure handling of customer data is essential to maintain trust.

What are the benefits of using customer data in marketing?

Using customer data allows marketers to create more relevant and targeted campaigns, leading to higher engagement, conversion rates, and customer satisfaction.

What are the potential risks associated with using customer data?

Improper handling of customer data can lead to privacy breaches, legal issues, and loss of trust. It’s vital for businesses to follow data protection regulations and implement robust security measures.

How can academic research inform marketing strategies?

Academic research provides insights into consumer behavior, trends, and effective marketing tactics. By studying such research, marketers can make informed decisions and enhance their strategies for better results.