30 Nov 09 The fall guys on the block
A recent meeting with a prospective client ended on a very feisty note – as we were about to bid good-bye the client remarked “Nobody really believes in research anyway – they need a guinea pig so their Board doesn’t kill them.” As it transpired, he was airing the view that marketing heads (and their Boards) need fall guys who can stick their necks out, say what the marketing or product development head wants to hear and then promptly do a disappearing act. Emperor’s clothes revisited, in reverse.
Companies therefore commission research where the starting hypothesis is that the market is great and there is money to be made and the research agency is asked to prove it. The research firm promptly goes around collecting data to support the hypothesis and the point is made to the Board. So if all goes as per plan, there are a lot of promotions. If the “opportunity” turns out to be a mirage, you know whom to blame.
So, if this is what companies need research for, then why should firms (like us?) bother with methodology, sample sizes, segmentations, Porter’s five forces, SWOTs and what not. My entire team devotes itself to ensuring rock-solid credibility and we believe that clients want us to deliver the truth as we see it and not what they want to see.
Anyway, it took me a moment to respond to my prospective client, but when I had gathered my thoughts I told him that the kind of research he referred to possibly existed but I could quote instances when our research just turned the client hypothesis upside down – and we stuck by it.
The scene was this – a global insurance player wanted to enter the Indian market in a particular niche which they thought was unexplored and held potential and they could quickly step in and gain first mover advantage. This particular market was so niche and so under – documented that we had to think of new and innovative ways to size it up. Our initial results said there wasn’t much of a market. We were of course, not ready to say that to the client right away and extended our research to cross check and (further cross check!) our sources and analysis. After this, we had an intensive three day peer review of the report, but our conclusion remained the same. We finally had to go back and tell the client what we thought. Our client was quite shocked and hadn’t expected this – in fact, so confident were they that they were processing the licence in parallel. Needless to say, the client’s Group Board wasn’t amused by our report at all and we had to face three rounds of review and grilling before the client finally decided to shelve entry plans. Its been four years now, but there’s still no foreign player in this niche in India!
Does this prove all research is credible? – My answer is if a research firm stakes its reputation on it, it better be!!