Marketing research is an important part of a company's decision making process. However, there are times to do marketing research and times not to. When marketing research keeps you on top of the markets in which your company operates; helps you achieve a strategic marketing advantage; enables you to select the course of action that achieves your key marketing objectives; or clarifies problems or investigates marketplace trends that affect your marketing goals, you should, by all means, conduct it.
However, there are certain times when you should NOT conduct marketing research. First and foremost, you should not do marketing research if you have not first defined the problem you need to solve. Problem definition is the single most important step in the marketing research process. If not done - or done correctly - any research performed will be useless. Granted, sometimes companies have no idea what the marketing problem is, so they must then do exploratory research, to help them identify the problem. In that instance, there is a business problem, and that is to determine what is causing the company's current marketing situation.
You probably also don't need marketing research if:
You have access to readily available marketing information
Your sales force may know its territories very well and each sales representative may understand the environment in which he or she calls on. They may know the price of the competition's products in those markets, as well as the relevant competitors there, and how much it costs to acquire customers there. In addition, the Internet has made all kinds of marketing information freely available, and data sources like Dun & Bradstreet's Million Dollar Database or ABI's ReferenceUSA has made finding information about prospective competition and customers a snap. As a result, secondary research may be all you need to do to find the solutions to your marketing problems.
There's not enough time or resources to conduct marketing research
If time is an issue, conducting elaborate marketing research will do no good. Sometimes a situation arises where a decision must be made quickly. In such a case, you might be better off convening the company's business experts for an urgent discussion of the situation, alternative courses of action, and the selection of the course to take. In other instances, you may lack the financial resources, or the internal staff for proper marketing research. In these cases, you may also rely on the business experts and the secondary research already available to you.
The research adds little or no value
If the decision you want marketing research to help you make has little impact on sales, profit, market share, customer loyalty, brand equity, or any other marketing performance indicator, then it makes no sense to do marketing research. Marketing research can be costly both in terms of time and money, so if the benefit of the research doesn't at least pay for itself in the dollars and manpower expended to conduct it, it's worthless. You also need to consider the opportunity costs of that research. If you do research on a problem whose solution adds little value, the time and money could have been better used to research a different problem with a bigger payoff, and that opportunity is lost.
Knowing when you need to do marketing research
Develop an internal monitoring system of your marketing environment. If you have a system in place to compile information about your company and your competition, it will alert top management to problems that marketing research can attack. These days, you can set up e-mail alerts with Google and many major newspapers to keep you informed of any news or blog posts about your company, your competition, and your industry. Also read your industry's trade publications and get out to trade shows and conferences. Talk to your sales force, your suppliers, and your customers. You can get a wealth of information for free from these sources.
Knowing when not to do marketing research is just as important as knowing when to do it. When marketing research adds significant value or improves your competitive position, it's a go; when marketing research is just "nice to know," it's a no!
Alex J. Caffarini
President, Analysights LLC