I occasionally run across articles, blogs, or other people at events who seem quite opposed to market research – and that’s putting it lightly sometimes.

The most recent of these examples is this opinion piece arguing that common sense trumps market research. One of his main arguments is that people don’t know what they want in the future, so you can’t ask if they want some new, completely foreign product because they’ll have no context to put it in and therefore say no. I agree that you usually can’t ask people what they think about products for which they have no context. I’m sure when people first heard of the idea of machines flying, or a bulb glowing with light, or talking to people over very long distances – all points made by the article’s author – they would have responded with great skepticism. Ask me what I want in my next car and I wouldn’t say, “a car with a removable, flexible skin.

But what all of these inventors and many more did were to identify needs; communicating over long distances, safer and cleaner lighting, and the possibility of quicker transportation. And this is what market research is great at – identifying needs. Sometimes this may be simply asking people what they like/dislike about products, but often times it’s about identifying broader needs and seeing how you can develop your products or services to fulfill those needs. Frozen dinners were developed because of two larger societal trends: television and time-saving appliances.

Successful companies today continue to invest in products based on consumer insights. You have to look no further than your home to see many of these … the Swiffer (the need: a duster that picks up dust instead of spreading it around), Febreze (the need: eliminate odors not cover them up), whitening toothpaste (the need: whiter teeth and a better smile).