Can new think tank demonstrate the value of research?

The Market Research Society (MRS) launched a new think tank yesterday to investigate the most important business and public interest issues of the day, but is this enough to convince brands of the importance of market research? 

Mindi Chahal

The aim of The Delphi Group is to demonstrate how research is essential to good decision-making and how it changes business and society for the better. However, defining the value of research depends many other factors that affect how influential it is. 

The MRS think tank is led by a group of members from brands and agencies including GfK, TNS, Quadrangle and BT. Suzi Williams, marketing director at BT, says: “Throughout my career I have always found that actionable insight based on good research can be transformative, both in terms of the quality of decisions and sometimes in changing minds too.”

Although I agree with both the statement above and with the mission of the newly created group, which is to draw on the intellectual capital created by the UK’s agencies to provide insight, the think tank’s effectiveness depend on both the findings of and methods used in the projects it undertakes.

One of the biggest issues and limitations in market research is of the value of the data gathered by surveys. People lie – they state what they think is right rather than what they truly think – and this presents a fundamental problem in validating any sweeping statements or headline stats that come from surveys.   

Last week the first in a series of blog posts on the Guardian website, based on an upcoming book titled ‘Considered Creative’ by freelance consultant, writer and D&AD trustee Steven Johnson, highlights the issue of understanding human behaviour. 

Although Johnson is speaking primarily about sustainability, he mentions the obsession with surveys and talks about “the ease with which we deceive ourselves and others to protect external perceptions and internal consistency” and the “persistent obsession with large-scale quantitative surveys as the source of insight into sustainable lifestyles”.

This can be applied to all sectors, not just sustainability, and Johnson suggests observing consumer behaviour as it happens in its natural social and cultural context, rather than using ‘self-reported’ research methodologies.      

There is no doubt that research plays an important part in the decision-making process for many brands and MRS will no doubt garner valuable insight from UK agencies, but it’s the methodology and therefore validity of the research that should also be a priority to ensure its place in the future.     

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