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Why Real Research Is Better Than Norman Muller

Reading the report into teenage media consumption by Morgan Stanley intern Matthew Robson, aged 15 and a half, didn’t just leave me in two minds.  It made me feel like two different people.

The first guy, me at home, is bursting with envy and admiration for a veritable tyro with a corporate Koh-i-Noor for a CV.

What a tremendous achievement, I thought, for a youngster to show gumption to get on the ladder and win over senior colleagues with insight while other teenagers are, well, just being teenagers.

And it’s this point that makes the second guy, me at work, rather annoyed.  This teenager is exceptional, but hardly typical.  Is one extended group of friends representative of the youth of today?  Unlikely.

I did ask my teenage cousin for her view but she was too busy swimming with her friends.  All teenagers swim on Wednesdays, right?

The serious point is that genuine marketing research is regularly sidelined in favour of anecdotal evidence.  It drives me nuts.  I have seen countless marketing projects shape up after a conversation with one unrepresentative customer is extrapolated to the marketplace.

Conducting effective research might feel like too much trouble – it’s costly and time-consuming – but marketing on a whim is generally a disaster.

Over 50 years ago Isaac Asimov published Franchise, a short story based in 2008, where the US decides elections are simply too much work.  Instead they programmed a computer to identify the most representative voter to pick the government.

Prepared to accept that Norman Muller is a fair substitute for democratically elected government?  No.  Then beware every time you hear strongly held views being presented as the facts.  They’re no substitute for a genuine poll.

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2 Responses to “Why Real Research Is Better Than Norman Muller”

  1. John Baumgartel

    I’ve read the report by Matthew Robson and agree with the premise that marketing on anecdotal evidence is generally a disaster… the excitement comes from taking note of these reports and running down the insights they present, and there are many. Mr. Stoneman can still test the truths with effective research to apply to broad audience (or narrow). Mr. Robson conclusions may not be fact, but as a creative marketer I tend to look at this report as a great starting point with insights for discussions leading to explorations of what if? and what could we learn? If nothing else you get to glimpse into the mind of a fifteen year old.

  2. Neil Stoneman

    Hi John,

    No dispute this report would make a great starting point for further investigation and no doubt it’s better than no insight at all.

    The broader point revolves around the mistake many firms make when they react to one voice rather than take a proactive approach to finding out what the market thinks. I’ve seen it done before and will no doubt see it again.

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