Innovation Management Wisdom

Market Research Best Practices: Snake Oil?

October 16th, 2008

Are best practices useful or merely pabulum?  This question comes up frequently at Whyze Group. We’ve have never used “best practices” in our literature.

We’ve even advised our clients to exercise skepticism when presented with anything labeled as “best practices”. What works well at one company is often counterproductive at another.

Today, I received an email from a prominent market research company promoting its intellectual capital through an email with this document attached, “Developing the High Peformance Market Research Function: Study Excerpt”.

The document provides no criteria against which the best practices were evaluated. The report is a derivative of research performed by the sponsor on behalf of its clients.

This begs the following question. Why would client firms knowingly hand over proprietary secrets (their best practices) for publication to the world?

Casting my skepticism aside, I opened the attachment and began to smile as I read the best practices cited in this report. Here’s one. “Benchmark partners were aligned in their aspirations to turn market data into intelligence that can grow the business.”

As I read other best practices, I began imagining myself in a Dilbert cartoon. Here’s another, paraphrased…when companies invest tens of thousands of dollars in focus groups someone from the company should attend them.

There are no market research practices in this report that deviate from those uttered decades ago or common sense. If there were genuinely valuable secrets, the sources of those secrets risked being sued for disclosing trade secrets.

Hence, are best practices–meaning, “the practices that the best 1% are using to outperform you”–really available?  Even if they were, would they apply to your organization? Of course, if your company’s capabilities and opportunities were identical to the company you’d be emulating, then they might.

As catalysts of strategic adaptation and innovation, we have a sacrosanct obligation to our colleagues, employees, our shareholders and our customers to get it right. This is our reason for being.

Getting it right starts with an honest heart, an open mind and critical thinking. If we’re really honest with ourselves, aren’t these the only starting points for figuring out what’s truly best?

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