14 March 2006

Where research can go wrong

In this post, I described how Research is full of examples which have given poor results even to large, well-financed research teams. One of the examples that I used was Sony.

Sony’s initial research into the Walkman concluded that the product would never sell. Potential consumers were asked whether they would ever buy a tape player which didn’t have a record facility. The answer was a resounding no. The research was asking consumers questions related to the features of the product idea. Features that were driven by specific technical issues related to weight and battery life. Consumers, educated over many years to new products delivering increased functionality couldn't come to terms with the concept of a new product with fewer features. It was then difficult for them to imagine how the product might be used.

When later research asked questions related to the benefits which the idea might bring about – a lightweight delivery system for music which could be worn while walking or jogging and the response from potential consumers was significantly more positive. Market response was huge and Sony reaped the benefits for several years. The Walkman concept stretched into combined tape player radios and eventually to CD and minidisk players.

The point of the post is that while research is important, its high level conclusions may need to be challenged by going back to the objectives, the sample, the questions and even transcripts to make sure that consumers were asked the right kind of questions and didn't find them confusing. Don't accept the results simply because they coincide with your worldview.

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