I was reading the book Why Smart Companies Do Dumb Things the other day and one of the things the author mentioned as a “dumb thing” was the misuse of market research within companies – not that it was conducted poorly, but that it was misrepresented. One example that he mentioned was GM’s approval of the Pontiac Aztek. Apparently focus groups (and possibly other research) showed major issues with the new vehicle, but those findings were never directly relayed to top management. Instead, they got heavily edited versions of the research that weren’t nearly so bleak.
So why did this happen? According to the author, Calvin Hodock, there are several reasons. For one, relaying findings from the focus groups by word of mouth can lead to misinterpretation since findings are “delicate” – instead always go the original report source. Also, company cultures can be a big contributor. For example, at GM, no one wanted to speak up about the problems because they were so far into the development and the young team that was working on it didn’t want to be blamed for the failure. The culture in this case promoted self-preservation over the greater good of the company.
Fixing company culture issues is obviously more difficult than retooling your survey execution or fixing other research processes that can be the culprit of defective research (as our other posts noted above), but it’s obviously a critical step in getting the most out of your research. After all, if you never hear what the research was telling you, what’s the point of even conducting it in the first place?