Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Why we hide behind big, boring reports

I recently read an interesting piece called "Tell Me Something I Don't Know-Why MR is Comprehensive, Accurate, and Often Boring‏" in which the author Yi Kang laments the dull and contrived nature of most market research.  

"Turns out that big, thick tomes of information do serve a purpose – making people feel good. In a recent survey, business executives were most confident in a decision being “well thought out” when the supporting research was “comprehensive” and “accurate."

But when asked if the supporting research made a difference in the business decision (not feeling good but having impact). A very different picture emerged. “Making a difference” requires market research to do at least one of two things: say something new or say something contrarian."

I think Yi is spot on for a couple of key behavioural reasons;

Status quo bias – comfort in sticking to what we know, and
Loss aversion – being more fearful of losing what we have than risking a gain

There’s a lot of comfort in a big, professional document because that implies safety, thoroughness and, frankly, that someone else has done the thinking so we don’t have to.  (It also helps to justify the expense on the research because quantity still trumps quality a lot of the time in perception management).

Of course it's not just market research that taps into our desire for credibility.  Just think about the business documents and spreadsheets we slave over that your boss may not even read. Executive summaries are there for a reason after all.

The other interesting thing we can draw from behavioural economics is the “not invented here” bias that we are subject to – in this case it explains why a lot of those research findings don’t go anywhere. To get traction, the stakeholders need to be part of the insights generation phase, otherwise the outputs are likely to be filed away in a drawer.

So what's the answer?  How about we take some chances and throw away the templated documents, the proforma Powerpoint presentations, the phone book sized research reports and instead throw some reflections up on a whiteboard to discuss, challenge, laugh about, but ultimately get stimulated enough to take action?  Getting your researchers to evoke insights rather than yawns? Sounds good to me.

Image from http://jameswoodward.files.wordpress.com/2008/08/piles_of_paper_small.jpg?w=200&h=239

No comments:

Post a Comment