How to Avoid Research Mistakes

I’m working on a presentation entitled  “Don’t Waste Your Research Dollars: Research Bloopers and How to Avoid Them.”  The presentation will include many hair-raising stories and talk about how to avoid those situations, but in order to keep things short and protect the innocent (and the not-so-innocent!), I’ll just give you the highlights here.

I collected stories about research mistakes, both from my own experience and those of colleagues, and realized most relate to two issues:

  • Incorrect assumptions about the marketing question
  • Designing the research without professional input

Making incorrect assumptions can be difficult to catch.  For example, imagine your customers aren’t using a new feature.  You naturally assume there’s something they don’t like or don’t understand about the feature.  You conduct focus groups to learn exactly where the problem is, and it turns out that nobody knew about the feature because of a technical glitch: the information never reached the customers!  How do you prevent this?  First, pay close attention to any assumptions included in your objectives for a study.  And second, consider options for quick pre-study research: can you do a small online survey with customers?  Or perhaps a round of phone calls with the sales reps?

Another common area for incorrect assumptions is in knowing your customer.  Marketers frequently assume their customer is similar to them and their fellow executives.  In many cases, they live very different lives and have very different values.  If you find yourself laughing at focus group participants, that’s time to pay close attention.  Could that laughter be covering up some discomfort with the gap between who you think your customer is and who they really are?

When it comes to designing the research, it’s easy to fall into the trap of “let’s do four focus groups near corporate headquarters with our best customers, just like we did last time.”  But is that the most effective way to do the research?  Depending on your research objectives, there might be better ways to conduct the research.  Your research partners can be a great resource – as long as you’re willing to use them.  Let them know your research objectives and your budget and have them recommend the best approach.  I’ve encountered situations where a company wanted to conduct focus groups with their own employees to save on recruiting costs.  In some (rare) cases, that might work.  But in others, your research partner might come up with a better solution; for example, telephone interviews with actual customers.

Want to avoid research mistakes?  Call me, and let’s have an in-depth discussion about your research objectives and how best to achieve them.  Call 818-752-7210 or email info at  And let me know if you’re interested in the full presentation: “Don’t Waste Your Research Dollars: Research Bloopers and How to Avoid Them.”

P.S.  Do you have any research “horror stories” to share?  I’d love to hear them so I can include them in my presentation.