Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Recognition Marketing - Beware Of The Pied Piper Syndrome In Research

Research Should Be Viewed Through A Common Sense Filter

By David Miranda

It seems like every hour, a research firm is releasing a new report that this or that is happening (or will happen) in the marketplace whether it be in the public or private sector. Of course, the research typically has the caveat that it includes a "margin of error" of plus or minus X.

Although no one would argue the benefits of insightful research, it must be viewed through a common sense filter or the consumers of the research become the victims of well-intentioned pied piper. When this occurs, the implications could prove embarrassing or financially disastrous or both.

Take the recent political polls for the New Hampshire Presidential primary. Research pundits confidently stated that Barack Obama, after a win in the Iowa Caucuses, would handily beat Hillary Clinton by double digits. Senator Clinton won New Hampshire leaving the pundits with egg on their befuddle faces. Everyone, except the people that really counted, the New Hampshire voters, got it wrong.

It just doesn't happen in the political arena. It happens in private sector every day when decision makers utilize only research to determine business strategies and not allowing for the scrutiny that comes with common sense.

The private sector is a prolific consumer of research. It influences everything that business does. All this research begs the question - "Why do so many firms, so often, get things so wrong?" The simple answer is the "pied piper syndrome", i.e. following and acting on research as if it were the closest thing to a sure bet and, of course, we know there is no such thing.

The best way to use good research is to temper it with common sense that is based on practical observation and human interaction. Peter Lynch, famed financial guru at Fidelity, had an interesting way to pick stocks he invested in. He observed. One day, for example, his wife came home with a plastic egg. Curious, Mr. Lynch, asked his wife what it was and why she purchased it. She said she found it in supermarket on a free-standing display. What was it? L'Eggs. Inside the plastic egg were ladies' nylons. She told her husband that she was always snagging her nylons during a typical day and here was a simple and convenient solution. Intrigued, Mr. Lynch went down to the store and observed women, one after the other, going to the L'Eggs' display and purchasing. He went home and the next day invested in Hanes, the parent of L'Eggs. Does Mr. Lynch utilize research? Absolutely. What makes him different? Adding common sense and personal observation to the final analysis.

Lessons to marketers? Don't give up research, but temper it with good ole common sense. Get out there and take a look around. See for yourself whether the research findings have substance.

Don't follow the pied piper blindly. It could be dangerous.