Is There a Shortcut to Market Research Mastery?

In his bestseller, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell explains the “10,000-Hour Rule,” claiming that the main key to success in any field is practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours. So, with roughly 40 hours a week of practice, it will take about five years to achieve mastery.

Market research is a complex industry and many of its practictioners, myself included, have logged far more hours than Gladwell’s minimum in areas such as messaging, branding and pricing.

So is there a shortcut to mastery? Google seems to think so. Google Consumer Surveys, a data collection and analysis tool launched in March 2012, is promoting such a shortcut. Their byline is “custom market research made easy” and in their polished promotional video, Google puts forth the notion that with this new tool anyone can now create a survey to evaluate logo design, new package design, messaging, preferences, brand awareness and even pricing. Google also takes a stab at the entire market research industry, saying “traditional market research can be slow and expensive.” They point out that long surveys are often not completed well or not at all. This tool is expected by its makers to somehow revolutionize the market research discipline, at only “1/10th of the cost of similar quality research.”

OK Google, so what are you selling? Let’s take this one point at a time:

Everyone can do market research now. Herein lies the biggest problem. Step One on the “How it Works” section at is “You create online surveys to gain consumer insight.” The implication seems to be that Google is offering a shiny new data collection and analysis tool. Using their survey tool, anyone can evaluate logo design, new package design, messaging, preferences, brand awareness and even pricing. As market researchers, we know survey results are only as good as the questions asked. And let’s not forget that determining and recruiting appropriate respondents are two of the most crucial steps in the process. And even if executed properly, interpreting the results takes far more statistical analysis than a few bar graphs can provide.

Pricing is very tricky and has been the topic of many academic papers and debates. It takes a long time to master any one of these areas, and in the case of pricing, it takes more than a rudimentary understanding of statistics to get it right. The reality is that there is both science and art behind evaluation of logos, packages, messages and preferences. By reducing this field to a few survey questions, Google is grossly misinforming its customer base. Sure, you can get results with this new tool, but not necessarily the right ones. Sorting the wheat from the chaff is where expertise comes in.

Perhaps Google Consumer Surveys would do better to position itself as a new tool for experienced market researches, not as an entire toolbox.

Traditional market research can be slow and expensive. This is true. However, this is not always true. Particularly now with the fabulous digital data collection options available to market researchers (of which Google Consumer Surveys may be one), obtaining large quantities of information is no longer prohibitively laborious. Nowadays, when a study takes a long time, it is typically because there is a tough problem to solve and study design requires detailed thought and selection of the best methodology and statistical analysis. And then after data is collected, it is not just a matter of popping out a few graphs. There may be multivariate analysis involved with multiple steps to ensure that the best possible solution to the market research problem is achieved. In the real world of market research, sometimes an entire study can be executed in three days and in other cases it may take months. It takes experience to know the difference.

Long surveys are sometimes not completed well or not completed at all. This is also true. However, the question that begs to be asked is this: Does Google Consumer Surveys magically stop people from designing long surveys?

Panels can be biased. This is my favorite! Web panels by definition provide convenience samples, not true probability samples, and hence the bias. (For a more detailed discussion on this issue please refer to Well Google, I have news for you. The manner in which you are collecting data also yields convenience samples and is therefore biased.

And yet, believe it or not, like many other market researchers I welcome Google Consumer Surveys to the marketplace. It is one more tool in our arsenal that will allow us to continue to provide research solutions to our clients’ challenges better, faster and cheaper. All this said, if Google had done a little professional market research on their Google Consumer Surveys promotional video, they might have avoided making so many errors, avoided offending professional market researchers around the globe, and ultimately they could have better positioned themselves in the marketplace.


This article was written by Kirsty Nunez.  Kirsty Nunez is President and Chief Research Strategist at Q2 Insights. Q2 Insights is a market research consulting firm with offices in San Diego and New Orleans. Kirsty can be reached at (760) 230-2950 and 

This entry was posted in Market Research and tagged Tags: , , on September 25, 2012 by Kirsty Nunez