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Why market research makes for bad products

Apple Store iPad Queue
Image by Softly, Softly via Flickr

Market research often falls down on one simple flaw: if you ask consumers what features they want before you show them a product, it’s almost never in line with what they end up buying:

“Consumers didn’t ask for tablets,” she points out in her summary. “In fact, Forrester’s data shows that the top features consumers say they want in a PC are a complete mismatch with the features of the iPad.”

If you give someone a feature list of the iPad, almost no one would buy it. Yet, give them the product, and they do. The “check list” approach to marketing fails – unless you’re marketing to someone who buys with a check list in hand. And who, other than IT managers, ever does that?

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  • Jason

    Too true. I’m reminded of the following scene from The Simpsons:

    Focus Group Guy: [after showing the kids some Itchy & Scratchy cartoons]
    Okay, how many of the kids would like Itchy & Scratchy to deal with real life problems like the ones you face every day?
    [the kids cheer]

    Focus Group Guy:
    And who would like to see them do just the opposite, getting into far-out situations involving robots and magic powers.
    [the kid kids cheer again]

    Focus Group Guy:
    So you want a realistic down-to-earth show that’s completely off the wall and swarming with magic robots?
    [the kids all chat at once about it being a great idea]


  • Ian Betteridge

    I’m not convinced that a product is *ever* improved by being subject to a focus group. Listening to customers after a product is launched is sensible, and leads to iterative improvements based on real-world use.

    Putting a mock up, prototype, or just a list of features into the hands of a focus group prior to launch is silly. And just asking a bunch of people what kind of features they’d like is a sure-fire way to ensure a product is crap.

    It reminds me of the old “If Microsoft designed the iPod packaging’ video that MS itself did:


    The more people you give a say in the process of creation, the more you’re likely to mess up.

  • http://www.bmob.co.uk marcus austin

    The problem is that consumers don’t understand what the technology is capable of, and neither do the market researchers. That’s why so many products look like other products. The consumers are asked what they want, and they naturally start to describe something that already exists, and so bingo you get another copycat product. Nobody wanted a Walkman until Sony invented one, they were all quite happy with their big fat portable tape players until then. Nobody wanted a phone with a touch screen that you flicked through until Apple created one, now every bugger has one. The facilitator needs to be an expert in their subject otherwise you’re limited in the responses you get.