The Art of Market Research

Why is so much market research wrong?

My love of market research does not blind me to its flaws.  Perhaps it makes those flaws more visible to me.  Even so, poll numbers are just irresistable, particularly in this election season.

The area where typical market research is typically weakest is the realm of inspiring great new ideas.  Traditional market research is deductive.  It surveys the world as it exists, quantifies the attributes and allows us to find the “gaps” between what people have and what they want.  Almost always the gaps are obvious.  The findings of the research is expected.  The ideas traditional market research uncovers are by definition derivations of pre-existing ideas.  After all, the ideas didn’t already exist, then how could someone think them up and put them into a survey?

So I will continue with my posting about how 2 artists, Komar and Melamid, used quantitative research in the 1990s to guide their creation of The People’s Choice — the most wanted and the most unwanted paintings of countries around the world.

It is a picture perfect example of how the literal use of market research can produce some very un-perfect outcomes.

Some background. Vitaly Komar and Alex Melamid are two Russian emigres who moved to the US in the 1970s, with a short stop-over in Israel along the way.  They quickly became well-known within the insular art world with a series of increasingly provocative shows and projects.  By the 1990s they became “famous” with The People’s Choice project.  Interviews in The New Yorker, The Daily News, etc.   Famous?  Well, they have not yet really crossed over into the mainstream to become household brands the way Warhol or others have.

Using other people’s money Komar and Melamid enlisted highly respected researchers to conduct qualitative focus groups and quantitative market research studies in the US and a dozen other countries.  Market research in so many countries is a geographic scale far larger than many “global” studies done by multinational corporations.

Here are examples of some questions and answers:

Do you prefer seeing bold, stark designs or more playful, whimsical designs?”
“bold, stark”: 39%
“playful, whimsical”: 49%

What is your favorite color?
Blue: 44%
Green: 12%
Red: 11%
Black: 4%
Purple/Violet: 4%
Brown: 3%
Pink/rose: 3%
Beige/Tan: 2%
White: 2%
Grey: 2%
Yellow: 2%
Mauve: 2%
Fushia: 2%
Maroon: 2%

How important is the appearance or design of the following products in your decision to purchase the product?
new car:
very-59%, somewhat-28%, not very-8%, not at all-5%
underwear: very-19%, somewhat-28%, not very-32%, not at all-21%
tv set: very-33%, somewhat-40%, not very-19%, not at all-8%
winter coat: very-51%, somewhat-38%, not very-6%, not at all-4%

It is comforting to know that design is more important in the decision process for a car than it is for underwear.

From the results of the surveys and focus groups, the two artists then created the “most wanted” and the “least wanted” painting for each country.  You can see the handiwork at Dia’s online gallery Diaart.org

In ArtForum Andrew Ross wrote:

Diagnosing the poll’s disappointing results for the Daily News, Komar & Melamid pointed out, “Maybe everyone is wrong in this country. We are not wrong because we are the artist. But we are wrong like the whole country is wrong. Products, politics, art created from polls is wrong. If using polls for art is wrong, then everyone is wrong…”

Vitaly Komar and Alexa Melamid used a deductive approach to market research, which leads to a derivative work of “art”.  The lack of creativity and inspiration in the outcomes is directly related to the use of a quantitative poll.  In the words of the artists themselves:

[Nation Magazine interviewer] N: But there were some surprising results from this poll, yes?

AM [Melamid]: Actually, what shocked me was that it was not surprising. I thought there would be much more interesting–I mean, much different results. Because my small experience talking about art with the people of Bayonne gave me quite a different impression of what the people want. They couldn’t exactly say what they want, but seeing artists working gave them ideas of what was possible. The problem is they don’t have examples. Maybe they can’t be asked, maybe language doesn’t work. I was expecting great discoveries, a real vox populi, a high opening. But I think it was the fault of the poll, not the people. It’s the fault of all polls. Maybe people have to be shown. Maybe we have to buy a van and go around the country working on art among people–van art. From Vanguard to Van Art.

So they point us in the right direction after all.  Using inductive methods of market research are perhaps the most effective ways to really use research for creative new products, new brands, new campaigns.

Consider this.  Turn the typical branding process on its head.

Have your agency develop the creative concepts first.  Then take the richest ideas out to consumers. And watch and listen to the way people respond.  Does the concept resonate deeply?  What are the stories that people co-create with the concept?  How do they tell the story of the new ideas?  Explore and expand on those ideas.  Work with the consumer to turn those stories into mini-movie scripts right there on the spot.

Then go to work on deepening, revising and polishing the richest, most robust creative concept.

Be inductive.

Otherwise you might end up with a brand that looks like America’s Least Wanted Painting:

"America's Least Wanted Picture" by Komar and Melamid

1 Response to “The Art of Market Research”


  1. 1 marketresearchpro November 16, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    I enjoyed reading about the study designed to find out what people want from art. It is a great example of why I always tell my clients that consumers are great critics but lousy creatives! You must present the ideas and polish them. It is useless to hope consumers will solve your marketing problems for you.

    This is a great example to share. Thanks!

    Jane


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