1. What is it?
Market research is an attempt to find out how much in demand a certain product, service or idea is by doing surveys, interviews and / or focus group meetings. It may also research into a company's or organisation's customers or even own employees to see how satisfied (or unhappy) they are, as well as to see if there are any suggestions for the company. Please, note that often governments may also use market research companies to see how people feel about certain issues. An example would be to see whether privatisation of a particular industry has actually made a positive difference in people's lives, or to see who they are going to vote for in the next election. The purpose of the market research is either to see whether a product or service has profit potential, to see how a company or organisation is viewed by the public, and finally to see whether there are places to improve and what those improvements might be.
2. How is it conducted?
First the negotiation occurs. Usually a company, organisation or government body will approach a marketing company and discuss a possible topic of market research. The market researcher and the client will then discuss the specific aims of the research and what sort of questions should be asked. A fee will be worked out at this point and this will be dependent on the depth of the research, the number of interviews (time committments) required and the difficulty or expense of acquiring the responses (call charges).
Then the marketing company will hire interviewers to conduct the actual interviews or surveys. This may be done via the phone, sent through fax or email or even just by someone on the street with a sheet of paper with questions. The purpose of the interviewer is to try to answer all the questions required as well as gain an understanding of the interviewee's actual feelings about the issues involved. The reason for this latter aspect is that often people will answer one way, however when you clarify a question by defining terms or asking a follow up question, they will mean something else than what they originally said. Or if there is an option on the interview sheet with two very similar options and the interviewer doesn't want to confuse the interviewee or take up their time.
Once a sample of responses is taken up, someone needs to enter the data into some sort of statistics package. As far as I know SPSS is a fairly popular package used. The data is analyzed according to various criteria which is decided upon by the analyst as some projects will only need the average of a particular response or some other might require something more in depth.
A report will be written up based on the results with some interpretation. Often the author of the report will include quotations given by respondees, for example "Respondents felt that the slogan was 'patronising', 'childish' and 'corny'".
3. Is it reliable?
Not really. While it can be useful for the general feel of the target group, the process is generally riddled with inherent (human) flaws. The main ones are that responses will often not quite fit into a option so they will be bent at some stage to fit into the box, or neglected. A similar flaw will come up again when the interviewer makes a mistake and the person entering the data has to force the data into an option or leave it out. Frustration, boredom and impatience will also often lead interviewers to stop querying the interviewee to speed up the interview, especially with talkative or annoying people. In addition, the interviewer themselves can introduce bias by interpreting a response incorrectly. Next, a great deal of information is neglected in the data entry because while the respondee has provided additional comments, the software requires a numerical entry. Again, frustration, boredom and human error will lead the data entry operator to enter incorrectly and not bother or not realize to correct the problem. Finally, the person writing the report may often not read the responses or do any actual interviewing so may not interpret some of the responses correctly (although is generally experienced in this process so makes fewer errors).
4. So is market research useful or is it just BS?
Despite the errors introduced, and the inherent BS in the corporate people attracted to this business it does provide food for thought as actual responses do differ from what you would expect. This is often because people misunderstand a company's / organisation's / government's product / service / purpose / policy and so this is a way of testing whether you have been effective at explaining your product or service to people.
It's also useful because I feel most upper level management generally are uncreative, clueless shitheads, who think their shit sweetens the world. The best cure for these types is to read the actual responses when people respond to questions such as "If you could change one thing about company X, what would it be?" by saying "Can we shoot management?" or "Can we shove their reports up their ass?".
5. So what should I say next time a market researcher calls / talks / mails / communicates in any way with me and I don't want to even think about them?
No thankyou, I'm not interested. Goodbye. Hang up / walk away / throw / delete mail away. Why? Chances are the person actually interviewing, hates the client, hates the job, and doesn't want to really call you, but hasn't finished university / college for their qualifications, can't find any other decent paying job that will accomodate hectic school hours, and has to
eat pay school fees.
Do not say "I'm busy now, try calling back later" if you have no intention of doing the interview because this only means we'll try to call you back later. Just Say No kids. We don't mind if you say no, but just don't be rude please. We understand if you don't want to talk, but don't yell / rant / or assume we have no skills or are of no benefit to society.
6. Are there any benefits to market research work?
Well the pay is not bad. The conditions aren't bad. Just remember that you are now at the bottom rung in the corporate scumbag world. You're the guy that takes shit from everyone. The set up that I'm in has decent conditions, allowing a fairly slack environment. Some places may have a pro rata situation so that may suck.
Yes some market research interviewers are pricks. This is like the rest of humanity. Some people just suck. We are not all like this. Furthermore, this is probably the situation in most of Australia. Other places may differ. There is probably a fair bit of information that I haven't been able to add simply due to no experience with other aspects, so feel free to add if you have more experience.
I am not scum.