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The importance of integrity in market research

The play was a great success, but the audience was a disaster. Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

One of the most painful things for a business coach is to sit with a troubled entrepreneur who says, “I don’t get it. I did my research; the business model is fantastic and I modeled it on a highly successful company in Toronto (or elsewhere) – but my sales are dismal”.

Using Oscar Wilde’s quote gives us a great parallel with business in that the only real test is if people will buy a ticket. In the case of showbiz it might be a terrible review by a critic that impacts sales. In the case of a business model, (unless something has occurred which is totally beyond the scope of the business owner, such as a sudden recession) the only possible fault lies in the research.

It’s a paradox. The entrepreneur must have a passionate belief in the idea in the first place or the business will lack the necessary fuel to get moving. We’re passionate because we are convinced that it’s the best idea – EVER. Therefore, we instinctively wear that passion as we talk to people and it’s hard not to let it show through as we conduct our research.

As a result, we’re reluctant to really, deeply examine the underlying premise, by listening to the people who comprise our target market. We tend to seize upon the first positive statements they make as if that were the whole case – and we may be reluctant to push harder to get them to the possible flaws or other negatives in the idea.

Integrity in market research

In our society, it’s really hard to keep the integrity in market research – hard because we are all raised to be polite. We look at the new purple haircut of a colleague and tell them how cool it looks when we are secretly thinking how freaky it looks – why hurt their feelings?

In the same sense, even though your target market might not personally know you – their instinct is still to be initially polite (especially when they know it’s your idea). It’s only with probing that you get the real story that could make you abandon the idea or at least make major modifications.

We often either close off the conversation while they’re still saying good things about us, or if we do hang in there and get to the flaws that they perceive, maybe we put it down to their ignorance in failing to see how great it is.

But consider this. It’s quite common to hear politicians who have just faced defeat in an election, say something like “our policies and programs were great, (the play), the electorate just failed to get it”. This is a kind of ‘blame the messenger’ attitude which assumes the electors are just to dumb, when in fact they (the people) were just calling it the way they see it. So, is the fault with the target market or with the initial idea, or the way it was presented?

Change the play

So you wrote a great ‘play’, you did what you thought to be adequate research, you committed vast amounts of time and other resources, and no-one comes to the box office. Now what? Change the play.

Staying with the metaphor, that doesn’t mean bring you bring down the final curtain. It means instead you re-examine the script, maybe re-assign some of the players and stand back and look at the marketing message after listening to the people you hope to attract to give you money.

Don’t overlook the people who already gave you money – go back to them to find out what they liked and what they didn’t and what it would take to have them say great things in recommending the experience to their friends. Somewhere in between a half empty theatre and a standing ovation is the formula for success. The persistent entrepreneur never stops looking – or listening.

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