Uncertainty in Marketing and Research
by Stan Hazen
Market researchers, almost by definition, constantly deal with certainty and uncertainty. If there was no uncertainty in the world of marketing—if everything were reasonably known or certain—there wouldn’t be much need for market researchers.
But, in fact, the world of marketing is full of uncertainty—things not known, not understood, not ever tried, or not even ever imagined. If what we know in the world of marketing would fill a cup, what we don’t know would fill an ocean.
One role of market researchers is to provide as much certainty as possible to help companies or clients make better marketing decisions and improve their chances for success. We gather and review available information and data. We identify what important information is missing. We design and conduct research. We observe. We ask questions. We measure. We determine preferences between alternatives and identify ways to improve products or marketing. We conduct experiments. We build predictive models. We determine the confidence level, or degree of certainty, of our measures or estimates. We help calculate risk levels. We provide insights and make recommendations.
In business it’s critical to hold onto what you currently have—to maintain it or even grow it as much as you can. But this is playing defense, and defense will not ultimately win the game. Offense—attack—is required to ultimately win in business. To survive and succeed over the long-term a business must learn, change, and grow. It must play offense and play it successfully. And offense lives in the world of uncertainty and risk.
If a business focuses too much on the need for certainty—the avoidance of risk, playing it safe, sticking to what’s worked before, playing defense—it will fail to change and grow. And any business that is not changing and growing is slowly dying. While it might seem contradictory, the only way for a business to achieve long-term safety and security is to not play it safe, but rather to be constantly taking risks, changing, growing—playing offense. You do that by exploring, by coming up with new ideas and concepts, by iterative development and improvement through trial and error—learning by doing. Take those risks that offer potentially big rewards, but take them in small steps—calculated, manageable, survivable risks.
Market researchers should keep striving to bring as much valuable information as can be offered, with as high a degree of certainty as possible, to help make better marketing decisions. It’s extremely important. But we also need to make sure we’re operating in the areas of marketing “uncertainty.” We need to keep eyes, ears, and minds open to opportunities and possibilities. Be involved in the offense, not just the defense. Help explore, discover, and create. Play a role in the processes that will determine the future success of the business. It’s important. It’s exciting. It’s rewarding. And we bring a valuable perspective to the process that can help increase our companies’ and clients’ chances for long-term success.
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