Why is marketing research so important? Because you don’t know everything, even if you’re sure you do.

Despite the fact that I have worked to perfect my client poker face for 20 years, I still can’t help cringing when I hear them say, “We don’t need to do market research. We already know what our customers want and what the issues are.” Or more often, “We can’t afford it.”


In fairness, no one knows their product and customers better than a company’s owners and marketers. However, what if they are wrong about something? Is it worth risking a good percentage of their precious marketing budget?

Ask Pepsodent. Failing to conduct research prior to launching a campaign in Asia, they missed the fact that yellow teeth are socially acceptable there.

Not surprisingly, their campaign lauding their toothpaste’s whitening benefits fell flat. Then there is the global clothing retailer Gap, who spent millions to update their logo only to revert the original when consumers pushed back. Oops. In our own company, we conducted research for a hospital client introducing an innovative new cancer treatment, assuming patients wouldn’t want to see the doctors (ho-hum) or the scary looking machine in the ads. Wrong. Witness the ad that resulted below.

There is rarely a guarantee of success in marketing, but doing proper research is about as close to an insurance policy as we can get. Relevant marketing research directs and refines creative development and leads to results. Some results can be quite profitable. How does a 100% increase in demand for heart surgery sound? Thanks to research, that’s what we were able to produce for Cleveland Clinic Florida.


Here are the most common unable-to-do-research excuses I hear, even from the savviest healthcare marketers.

We already know our target market. Markets and targets change constantly. The changing economy causes consumers to prioritize and spend differently. We can’t know what people are feeling or thinking today without asking them, today.

I don’t have the time – my CEO wants this campaign out yesterday. Current technology allows for fast turnarounds, typically at very reasonable costs. Online surveys can be programmed, administered, tabulated and analyzed within a few days. We can also conduct online focus groups to test creative. Researchers are finding that responses may be more objective, since participants aren’t as influenced by the others in the group as they are in live settings.

It’s too expensive. Market research reduces your risk. When considered in the context of your total marketing or campaign budget, it probably comprises just a fraction.   If you are planning to spend $100,000 on a campaign, it’s not unreasonable to put 10% of it toward a research study. Online research can cost significantly less than traditional research, and you’ll get the same results or better.

Finally, maybe you have the “my boss doesn’t believe in research” excuse. Perhaps your boss might like to know what Harvard Business School has to say about the high failure rate (95%) of new product introductions without proper research. You may wish to ask (diplomatically, of course) a few questions:

  • If we are wrong, can we afford to lose money on an off-strategy program?
  • Do we know if we are providing everything our customers or patients need to remain loyal?
  • Do we know if our customers or patients are giving a greater percentage of their business to another organization? If so, why?
  • Do we know with certainty why our prospects choose other providers or companies instead of us?

Unfortunately, if you can’t find a way to educate management and get their buy-in on primary market research, you are setting yourself up for failure. If your product or service line campaign doesn’t work and you have to explain why, you’ll be hard-pressed to provide the answer and you probably can’t get away with “I told you so.”

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