Interest in surveys that purport to identify averages and norms is so great that the myths this type of research spawns are sometimes floated as sophisticated branding and marketing strategies.
Cures are invented, fads are nurtured, styles are crushed and dogmas are erected as though mandated by some newly discovered “truth.” Sometimes psychological warfare is involved.
For example, when high-priced researchers ask, “Are Americans dumb?” 95 percent of Canadians say “Yes.” If they ask, “Are Canadians dumb?” then 95 percent also say “Yes.”
However, when they ask, “Who are the smartest people in the world?” then the answer is “Americans.”
The moral of this story is that these surveys are products of the art of deception — even though the lies may be deeply buried. Their results are totally dependent on how the questions are formed and on anticipated response structuring.
The sensible conclusion is that the dumbest people in the world are the ones who rely on such “research” and hinge their business decisions on manufactured responses. Corporate America lives on a daily diet of such feedback and avoids visiting a washroom more than three times a day, as the national-average surveys indicate once a day is the norm. Ex-Lax, anyone?
Whether the topic is movies or food, major government policies or simple pet-care advice, the attitudes and tastes of the entire populace of western civilization are manipulated daily by a very small group of research fakers. They collect their data and come up with guidelines for the rest of society to follow so that everyone can be mentally prepared to behave appropriately when positioning a toilet seat, sneezing during dinner or tipping a bartender.
The Law of Averages
Obeying the dictates of national averages is like calculating the lowest common denominator of a group’s IQ and then choosing the closest match to act as its happy-go-lucky spokesperson.
Businesses routinely operate on this principal, taking it from one extreme to another. The results can be predictably absurd — from “An average person can eat a dozen hamburgers in one sitting” to “The average person can drink a bathtub full of beer in two days.”
Readers, please do not attempt either of these feats without supervision.
The fact is, how people behave “on average” is not the issue any longer, as we are fast becoming participants in one-to-one marketing and cyber-branding games. Therefore, national averages do not mean a thing.
As we move forward, customization is taking over generalization. Now, corporations are delivering branded values based on direct demands from customers rather than mass-produced goods based on massive research in pursuit of common averages.
Crafting the descriptions and terminology used in conducting and reporting research is another art form. The thick report starts by quoting some scholars or a Nobel laureate. Then it dives into a revelation of what customers want, for example: “indispensable value plus sustainable bonds with the product for a long-term relationship, with continued enjoyment with the minimal fiscal expenditures.”
Simply put, in this case, customers want “cheap.” The main objective of this report, then, is to present common-sense data in such a way that it seems to justify — even demand — action. The research becomes a catalyst, triggering a disconnected series of steps — including more studies to reconfirm the earlier findings. So, who are the dumbest people in the world?
Recommendations: Get Smart
Like researchers would say, “The national average of executives making all decisions based on market research is 90 percent.” That leaves just a small handful who engage in original thinking and invite innovative ideas.
The corporate teams that are overdependent on research averages often see their brands fail at a spectacular rate. Their new product introductions seem caught in a revolving door — what’s in and what’s out based on “researched” hypotheses that have little to do with actual market behavior.
This type of research creates a thick fog that prevents corporations from correctly reading their customers’ preferences. Consequently, their products fail to achieve longevity. Flawed research often aims to satisfy a preconceived need by confirming that a well-known principle is correct, instead of making an objective determination.
Of course, research can have great value if the right questions are presented in the right way. American businesses use far less research then companies in the UK or Japan, or in the rest of Europe. Indian businesses are run mainly on instinct and intuition. The emerging economies simply do not believe in the value of research.
However, a well-conceived study with a clear objective and unassailable methodology can sometimes provide very valuable information. Still, in no case should it become the main driver of a company’s strategy. There is nothing quite like making gutsy, raw decisions. That is something the smartest people in the world are not afraid to do.
Naseem Javed, author of Naming for Power and alsoDomain Wars, is recognized as a world authority on global nameidentities and domain issues. Javed founded ABC Namebank, aconsultancy he established a quarter century ago, and conducts executiveworkshops on image and name identity issues. Contact him at [email protected].