Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Observations without meaning

A lot of consumer research is commissioned by marketers to find out what consumers are really thinking, feeling, and desiring. Too often it is forgotten that research does not tell you anything new or original. It can only verify or falsify an existing theory. Research without a concept, without a clear question or theory is nothing than a compilation of experimental facts, devoid of meaning. The French thinker Auguste Comte prefers to call it “empiricism emptied of meaning”.

Any market research needs a theory that guides its work. Too often marketers expect that research projects provide answers. But theories and concepts provide answers while research can only assess their level of correctness and truthfulness. Observations are important but they only gain meaning within the boundaries of a theory. Einstein summarizes it well when he says “It is theory, and only theory, that decides what must be observed.” More marketers should study the basics of sociology and social theory to make marketing research truly productive and meaningful.

6 Comments:

Blogger Martin Bishop said...

But how do you form a theory without consumer insight?

I don't think you mean to say that ethnographic or similar research that helps identify unmet consumer needs is not useful, right?

Isn't the process: 1) Get consumer insights 2) Form hypothesis 3) Test hypothesis ?

10:33 AM  
Blogger Michael Fassnacht said...

Interesting question. What I am trying to say is that one needs a theory or hypothesis before even seeing or discovering a consumer insight. Any observation without theory or hypothesis or question will lead in most cases to a pure description of consumer behavior but not to an actual insight.

6:27 PM  
Blogger Girl said...

I get what you mean. In my opinion there are two ways to form a concept: 1) the conventional way, through consumer insight or 2)come up with your own brilliant concept and then test it onto the consumer. Typically if the latter is justified by consumers, you can expect a brilliant one-of-a-kind product. As for the former method, you can expect to come up with a standard, not too exciting product that perhaps competition already markets.

3:05 PM  
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