Over the new year I read the perfect book for the start of the new year. In Superforecasting, Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner provide a roadmap for becoming a better forecaster, with small and progressive steps to improving any prediction you make on almost any topic. This is not just book for political pundits and economists, but is recommended to anyone in marketing sciences, including researchers, who make a living from interpreting and synthesising information to make inferences about business decision-making.
In The Martian, the stranded astronaut Mark Watney has to use his wits and scientific knowledge to overcome hostile landscapes and environment, tragic accidents and the loneliness of being the only man left on Mars. The story focuses on his ingenuity in solving all the problems that he comes up against. And why is Mark Watney so good at solving all the problems that confront him? He is also very good at asking the right questions. Read more »
“We expect small things to be lighter than big things, to get smaller as they move away from us, and to grow larger as they get nearer … Though seeing and hearing and touch seem simple and direct, they are not. They are fallible inferences based on knowledge and assumptions which may or may not be appropriate to the situation. Listen to a tape recording of an audience clapping. In the kitchen, it sounds like bacon frying. In the garden, it sounds like rain.” – Richard Gregory
Marketing and branding are all about creating instant meanings, and there is a lot to be learnt from how placebos work. This is not to argue that marketing is about ‘happy pills’, but rather that expectations matter and marketers need to think carefully about how expectations are created and linked to the things that people value.
“Tell me to what you pay attention, and I will tell you who you are.” – W.H. Auden
In Mastermind, Maria Konnikova uses the stories of Sherlock Holmes to lay out best practices for deduction, observation, memory and imagination for anyone who wants to be a consulting detective (including market researchers). Some of the key lessons are worth repeating and a good addition to a previous article on Sherlock Holmes, summarised as:
- Know yourself
- Observe carefully
- Learn Read more »
Every market researcher dreams of the ideal client, the successful project and the satisfaction of truly understanding the client’s customers to inform a successful business strategy. What could possibly get in the way of this?
An evil empire has descended over market research, which can be summarized in the Edward Tufte quotation, “Power corrupts. PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.” Read more »
Curiosity has it’s own reasons (Einstein)
The lifeblood of market research is curiosity and curiosity is a great thing in all aspects of life (as Einstein said so eloquently on several occasions). Market researchers are very adept (and trained) to ask lots of questions, but I think we ask far too many and should ask far fewer and be smarter in the way we design research in order to do that. Let me be clear from the start. Asking questions in market research is very often at best a waste of time, and at worst positively misleading. Read more »
In Don’t Think of an Elephant, George Lakoff provides a practical guide to the way that our mental frameworks shape the way we see the world, in turn shaping the goals we seek, the plans we make, the way we behave and how we interpret good and bad outcomes in life. These mental frameworks are often ‘invisible’ to us (he calls them the ‘cognitive unconscious’), consisting of structures in our brains which we are not able to access, although we can see their consequences in the way we reason, the decisions we take and our personal values (what we see as ‘common sense’). We also see them in the language we use, as our words are defined relative to these frameworks, and the stimulus of a word, triggers frames which are activated in the brain. Read more »
“All models are wrong, some models are useful.” - George Box
The flaw of averages
Market research reports are generally packed full of average scores and comparisons of means, and not often enough with distributions and extremes. In the real (business) world this is a mistake as, in the words of Sam Savage’s (f)law of averages, ‘plans based on average assumptions are wrong on average’. To put this another way, errors occur in the real world when we replace uncertain numbers by single (or simple) averages. Read more »
“What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” - Herbert Simon
Do you need more information?
How much can information can the world use? It can certainly create a great deal of information according to a study by Martin Hilbert at the University of Southern California, but the ability to create and even store more and more information is not the same as the ability to understand, synthesise and communicate the information. I believe this is one of the most important issues we face today, both as content producers and as content consumers with increasing competition for our limited attention. Read more »
“Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.” - Aaron Levenstein Read more »