Market/Consumer Research: It’s Not Rocket Science—or Is It?


What exactly is rocket science anyway?

Rocket science, according to the uber-on-point Wikipedia (insert slight sarcasm and skepticism here), is based on the following: theoretical physics, such as fluid dynamics for aerodynamics or the equations of motion for flight dynamics.

That’s some pretty heady stuff, if you ask me. Rocket science is dictated by established principles, with a strong emphasis on gravity, lift, and drag. You can’t get much more concrete than rocket science; not much wiggle room when you’re talking about things falling from the sky.

But, rocket science is also largely based on empirical data, which makes new discoveries by using the senses to make observations through experiments.

So, you see, market and consumer research IS rocket science after all!

The quantitative part of market/consumer research is the analytical side, featuring the stats and numbers.

But the empirical side of market/consumer research is largely about experimentation and observation.

Take, for example, a project I have in front of me right now.

Entrepreneur A comes to me with Product Concept B. The entrepreneurial world is quite different than corporate America. The entrepreneur often doesn’t have a team or a budget that allows for multiple views into the same quandary to determine the who, what, whys, and whereas.

In partnering with Advocate Market Research Bureau, the entrepreneur will benefit from my outside perspective. I, as a market and consumer researcher, will experiment with various methodologies to gain insight beyond the traditional focus groups or panel studies.

The key here is experimentation. I’ll answer my clients’ questions by matching the most appropriate, timely and cost effective methodologies possible. For example:

  • How do I gather from my client’s potential target the necessary information to move the product along?
    • Do I implement multiple city studies conducting 3 or more focus groups in each location in order to understand what is needed and potential product redesigns?
    • Do I launch a nationwide quantitative study to capture a ‘measurable’ read and really hone in on their target market?
    • Do I host casual gatherings in a park; is this a product that talks to the environment or use of free time, children or dog walking?
    • Do I gather people in an art museum and talk about the importance of culture in our schools or how people choose to fund various non-profits?
    • Do I entertain small groups around cocktails and appetizers and discuss their favorite designers and handbags?
    • Do I streamline the quantitative portion of the study to still capture a representative and statistically significant sample but limit the completes which while it won’t allow me multiple cuts of the data for analysis will certainly give me a true view of the intended target?

Observation is key to market and consumer research especially when we’re talking about qualitative research. After I’ve experimented with the methodologies and chosen the setting for my observations, I must note what happens. Some of the things I’m looking for include:

  • How do people interact with the product; is it intuitive, is it an obvious solution to something in their lives, is it confusing, is it too much function and not enough form or too much form and no function?
  • How do people respond to questions; are they combative, are they guarded, are they open, are they forthcoming?
  • What makes a consumer tick? What pulls at their heartstrings?
  • What does the consumer focus on and what do they dismiss?

So, yes, I do believe that market and consumer research is, indeed, rocket science.

Both are based upon the hard sciences with their established principles, statistical analysis, and concrete facts.

But they are also empirically based on experimentation and observation.

While I would be hard pressed to call myself a rocket scientist—even though it is now obvious I have more in common with them than I originally thought—I am thankful to be a market and consumer researcher.

I use both hard facts and soft science to give my clients a better understanding of the marketplace, and a confirmation (or redirection) of a concept or product.

But it’s in offering clients an accurate assessment of the end consumer’s motivation that really sets us market and consumer researchers worlds apart from the rocket scientists.