Opinions Research

Reaching a peak in the marketing landscape

Posted by Geoff Lowe on October 25th, 2012 at 4:26 pm

Consumer researchers love to group people. It's central to what we do in our profession to help us reduce the complexity of the world so we can understand it better, and therefore do better things.

Of course, each of us belongs to multiple and often overlapping groups, which means the group we're identified with in any one context, for any particular use, is only useful in that context and for that use. Being grouped as a vegetarian is very useful at meal times, less so between meals.

Reaching conclusions through grouping and decision making

In fact, this tendency to group people isn't unique to consumer researchers. It's actually a well-understood natural process all humans use to make sense of complex things.

From an evolutionary point of view, the ability to reach conclusions fast by seeing just what matters in the current context has been advantageous to our species.

Like many evolutionary adaptations, however, this tendency to simplify has its limits of usefulness and it's good to understand those limits. Overuse of this particular advantage leads to poor understanding, and therefore poor actions.

One historic manifestation of this has been the tendency to assume differences in behaviour between basic demographic groupings in consumer research.

Thankfully we've moved beyond that with psychographics, buyergraphics and even more sophisticated consumer research segmentations. But even these groupings have their limits. The conclusions we draw where complexity is simplified, must have more or less value based on some measurable criteria.

How is falsifiability in consumer research relevant?

The answer, I think, lies in the concept of falsifiability. The best conclusions or ideas have been subject to the most effort to falsify them.

I value ideas on the basis of their falsifiability and, by extension, I value an opinion based to a large extent on the effort I think the owner has made, or is prepared to make, to falsify that opinion.

A low effort to falsify is a tendency to prejudice, and to oversimplify. The more religious a person is, for example, the less likely it is that falsifiability is part of their personal framework for understanding the world. Religious claims of truth about the universe, therefore, have a low value.

Falsifiability is a filter that allows us to separate good ideas from bad ones.

The more ideas are challenged, the better they’ll be

I am not advocating an unending search for a single absolute truth. There is no such thing in the arts of marketing or life – or even consumer research. The variables are just too immensely huge.

To borrow an idea from Sam Harris, there are multiple peaks and troughs in the landscape of marketing ‘rightness’ with many rights, many wrongs and many places in between.

Not even scientific method (the ground zero of falsifiability) requires absolute proof. There are simply propositions that have withstood efforts to disprove them, and the most valuable propositions tend to be those that have withstood the most.

No matter how big or small they are, opening our ideas and our beliefs for inspection, exposing them to potential falsification, increases the chances that the understanding we consumer researchers gain by simplifying our complex world ... lands us on a peak!

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