How to be a Terrible Market Researcher in 8 Easy Steps

By Maria Twigge

Terrible Researcher

Over many years now I’ve been honing my skills as a terrible market researcher and I thought it was about time to share some of the highlights to ensure the industry keeps up with the latest ways to conduct absolutely appalling research.

We will take a look at bad practices right from the beginning of the research process – recruiting participants and selecting samples, all the way through to data analysis and insight delivery. That way I can help you to deliver an awful end-to-end research experience for all. But, I can’t take full credit for all of these nuggets of inspiration though as I have collected a few from chats with acquaintances and friends and more, so thank you to all involved.

The 8 Simple Steps to Terrible Research

1. Don’t thoroughly brief your partners. If you don't nurture supplier relationships as a whole, then this a great way to ensure that you don’t form any long term ties that make future projects better.

The incident that inspired this entry is an old anecdote about a recruiter who re-arranged the order of scheduled focus groups (for the convenience of the participants) without double checking. This left me in horror as the clients observed the least digitally savvy segment interact with their new website first! Witnessing a combination of beta site glitches and user errors. The recruiter wasn’t particularly sympathetic in this situation, as I hadn’t specifically asked for the groups to be kept in the original order. Lesson in communication learned.

2. Over-engineer a sample plan. Good researchers know that who you talk to is just as important as what they say. Therefore thinking through eligibility criteria for your project is extremely important. Often there is a highly defined core target audience for the product, so those people are the ones that you want to talk to most – even if this means your sample must be male, 34-35 year old over-achievers with a 'B' socio-demographic bracket in Brighton.

Don’t worry about the extra expense, the incidence rate or being overly focused on a niche when the product might have broader appeal. Just ensure the outcome of your careful consideration is a list of at least 12 vital criteria.

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"Tip 2 for terrible market research: make sure your sample plan includes at least 12 criteria so no-one can qualify."

3. Drink the night before the focus group. A great way to prepare for four back-to-back focus groups is a few drinks with your colleagues & clients. Some people think that too much alcohol on the eve of a large research project is a faux pas. But passing the moderator mojitos until they lose their voice is an excellent way to challenge the moderator a little further. (Well, in the sense that the client and customers have to work a bit harder to comprehend the questions.)

4. Point directly at participants. This technique, to single out an individual and over-question, makes participants feel intimidated and guarded and is another well used action in terrible research. And it’s not just limited to face-to-face focus groups, you can take it online too!

If you ask a one-to-one interview question in the main body of the conversation instead of using a private prompting tool you can successfully alienate all the other participants and push the individual participant who is the focus of your attention back into their shell.

5. Be vague with your instructions. Perhaps the best example of this is when collecting vox-pop style videos. If you are suitably vague with your instructions you will be able to collect some great little clips that bear zero relation to the original research objectives.

Allowing participants to take creative licence and (for example) sing a song that vaguely relates to the topic, record a mini-drama or discuss the research whilst their favourite music is playing in a darkened room makes them feel like they have usefully contributed, even though they have not.

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"Tip 5 for terrible market research: provide instructions so vague. participants can feed back through song & dance"

6. Assume international fluency. Running international research projects across the globe is a regular requirement in today’s fast paced economic environment. So if you want to ensure that this kind of global project study goes terribly wrong then you shouldn’t pay any attention to culture and context.

Often, a good international moderator will pick up on subtle nuances or even try to edit the research to fit in better with local cultural norms. Of course, this local context stops you from reaching that terrible moment when you suggest to the participants a slogan that is witty and sharp in English but offensive almost everywhere else!

7. Sprinkle the debrief with uncertainties. The best words to use in a terrible research debrief are ‘some’, ‘might’ and ‘may’. Use them a lot. And match them up with short, ambiguous headlines for maximum confusion. Your audience will feel as though you have effectively told them nothing at all at the end of a whole 90 minute session.

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"Tip 7 for terrible market research: be sure to use the words ' might'. 'some' and 'may' as much as possible"

8. Panic and run at the presentation. Last, but certainly not least, (in fact - absolutely the most important part of a terrible end-to-end research experience) is how to behave at the debrief. I have, more than once, been told stories of nerves overwhelming a presenter at the start of an important presentation.

Some of the most terrible examples I have come across include:

  • Researchers high-tailing out of the debrief room, never to be seen again, leaving a junior colleague to take up the reins
  • A determined continuation of a presentation despite the requirement for a waste bin to retch in between slides
  • An embarrassing mind block just as the story is about to reach its climax
  • Long, droning silences until the presenter gives up and concludes with a point that doesn’t seem to have any relation to the previous three

Follow these 8 straightforward steps and you won’t fail in your endeavours to deliver awful market research. If you would rather find out how to conduct fantastic research instead, why not take a look at some of the best practices below:

Have you got any market research horror stories that you could add to this terrible list? Be sure to share and join the discussion in the comments below.

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Maria Twigge

Maria Twigge- Research Director

Personal Bio: Maria has worked with FlexMR for over 7 years, applying psychological patterns to online research. She has previously delivered insights for ITV, John Lewis and more.




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