Who Did Market Research on THAT?

Image for post
Image for post

If you told me seven years ago that I would earn less with my college degree than I would making ASMR videos, I’d think you were trying to sabotage my future.

And if you told me yesterday that $90 tubs of mac-&-cheese with a 20-year lifespan were a thing, I’d slap you because that meal is sacrosanct and I don’t tolerate disrespect.

Yet these are now staple products of your everyday American consumer…

I’m being a bit sarcastic, of course, but I’m also presenting you with discomforting facts. Well, they’re only discomforting if you care more about things making sense and less about making money. Every once in a while people take the shadiest looking things to the bank, yet somehow the checks don’t bounce when you cash them.

In 2018, the top ASMR YouTuber (ASMR stands for “autonomous sensory meridian response” by the way) made $130,000 in one year. One of her most viewed videos was of a dental exam. I kid you not.

Where was I when we discovered whispering is a multi-million dollar industry? Who did market research on THAT?

And lest we forget: mac-&-cheese. No one ever needs 27 pounds of this sitting in the basement for two decades. Yet U.S. retailer Costco managed to sell out of it in just one day — at a price higher than a prime rib steak.

As I consider all of this, my first question is why is America this way? My second question: who did the market research on any of this?

Thank God I paid attention that one time in marketing class, where the topic was Malcolm Gladwell and his contrarian approach to all things. It explains a lot. In this video he gives an example of the prototype test anomaly, teaching an invaluable lesson marketers can’t afford to miss.

“Preferences…are extraordinarily unstable.” What we think or say we like, Gladwell argues, is a figment of our imagination. Essentially, we cannot take self-reported customer data as biblical truth.

Why is this so? According to Gladwell, multiple factors are affecting survey or focus group responses. The order, number, or type of steps in collecting them creates volatility. Changing the context in which you conduct the research (i.e. location, experiences or beliefs of the research participants) creates a Choose Your Own Adventure saga. Also, people are liars. In Gladwell’s words, “forcing you [the consumer] to explain something when you don’t necessarily have the vocabulary and the tools to explain your preference automatically shifts you towards the most conservative and least sophisticated choice.”

Now I have no insights as to what really went on behind the scenes of researching pickle-eating noises. What I do know is that if you were surveying anyone like me, I’d say it was demonic. But is that me opting for the more conservative sounds of gentle rain, for fear of judgment if I told you chewing with your mouth open soothes my soul?

Beware of staying broke, and heed my three suggestions for milking the next cash cow, whatever it might be:

  • The box is larger than you think. Take bigger steps to get out of it. Ask the type of questions that make you wonder why you would ever ask such a thing in the first place.
  • Play make-believe and Opposite Day. Pretend there’s a world where people do things differently, and figure out what they’d need to live in that reality.
  • Stop being so SMART. We set up research goals to give us direction, and that’s good…sometimes. Other times it’s better to enjoy the Alice Luxury of walking “long enough” with multiple ideas, so long as you ultimately get somewhere 10x richer.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store