Bj’s 30 Years in 30 Days—June 27 What’s the Use of Wond’rin?

  Bj Kirschner      28 June 2022     

The month of June marks my 30th Anniversary in market research. Since 30 days hath June and I love a good countdown, I have decided to do a Market Research Thought of the Day each day in June. Enjoy! Bj

Bj’s 30 Years in 30 Days—June 27 What’s the Use of Wond’rin?

The question I get more often than any other when people ask what I do is “what’s the point of market research, what does it actually do?”

After 30 years, I should have a series of canned answers, the same ones we all use when speaking to potential new clients or at school career days (I don’t have kids, but I assume there is a market research booth at every school career day, like medicine, law and social media influencing, no?).

You don’t have a canned answer?  Well… First, it’s neither “research” nor “marketing” in the way most people know them.  In healthcare, it’s a bit easier because I can tell that what we do not do.  If someone is familiar with clinical research, I tell them that’s exactly what we do not do.  We are not involved in any sort of chemical research, nothing connected to microscopes.  We are not strictly marketers, though what we do is often part of marketing, the difference to others is smaller than splitting hairs.

Sometimes it’s easier to give an example.  I go back to the beginning of my career, to the very clear pre-niche studies where we tested packaging, branding, advertising and basic concepts.  There was the breakfast cereal we tested for years, everything from “would you be interested in eating this” to tasting it in its final form.  Real-time Super Bowl commercial viewing with biometric testing.  Seven possible drug names for a theoretical Diabetes treatment.  If the person asking is Gen X or older, I use the Pepsi Challenge as a starting point.  Everybody was stopped at the mall for the Pepsi Challenge at SOME point.

Sometimes it’s perilously obvious.  “Oh, are you the people who call during dinner to find out what I think of the Prime Minister’s actions today?”  “Oh, are you the people selling me a timeshare?”  Yes to the first, no to the second.  There is nothing people in this industry hate more than being lumped in with telemarketers and their endlessly grasping insistence on being heard.  Anyone remember when mobile phones started to replace all other communication methods and there was a great deal of publicity surrounding no-call registries? This industry panicked.  If we could not contact people by calling them, how would we recruit them?

One explanation might be this: “we facilitate communication between people with an idea or a product and the people who might be most involved with the idea or product.”  That’s at once stalwart and impressive but also vague and cryptic.

But much of the time, I find myself tailoring the answer to the listener.  Anyone else do that?  Oh, you do?  Ah, interesting.  Was that a conscious choice or has osmosis helped you absorb the industry’s prime lesson that an idea or a product can be anything to anybody if it connects with them in a uniquely personal way?  See?  There you go!

By not having an easy answer, you are proof of our industry’s enormous mandate.  Maybe the answer to “what to you do?” should start being “what do you think we do?”  After all, there is no wrong answer.


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