Market research: a waste of talent?

I took part in a market research street interview on Friday. I was ushered into a room over a pub and was sat in front of a Tablet PC.

It seems these days, after you’ve been recruited, they don’t even interview you. You have to sit and answer multiple choice questions on a PC. The process is pretty dull, and the questions reflect the clumsy mindset of brand management: “is such-and-such a brand for people like you?” Of course, soon I’m ticking answers without much care as I want to get finished, collect my free Mars bar, and leave!

I always feel a bit sorry for the people (mostly women) who do this work, I got the feeling they were bright people doing a boring job. Not the execs who do the powerpoint at the end of it all, but the street interviewers. The ground troops.

In fact, I always have this feeling about the folks at the sharp end of doing research – friendly, persistent, capable people doing work of little real value. Just how excited can someone get asking people to sit at a computer and say if they’ve seen ads of a tortoise with a diet coke on its back? OK, you could treat it as a zen exercise in attention I suppose, but apart from that?

Of course, the end product of all this effort are some crisp looking numbers. I can see the Powerpoint now: Fantastic! Another 3% slightly agree that the Ford Focus is a car!

Sure companies want, maybe need, to track awareness yadda yadda. But it all seems a bit of a waste to talent to me.

What would I do instead? I think someone at GM has a few thoughts.

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