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  • Writer's pictureLiviu

A Flashlight for a Dark Room

Updated: Feb 27, 2023

We see market research as a way to bring light (business relevant information) into a dark room in the night (the current state of the environment in which the business is operating – the market; the competitors on one side, own customers on the other).

A survey is like a flashlight you bring along to help you see various objects (the information you need, which are translated into research objectives) which are scattered throughout the room.

Of course, the room is usually not completely dark, there’s still some moonlight or starlight shining on (data from internal sources or from previous surveys), but you still need the flashlight to help you see more clearly.

Sometimes people enter the room with a tiny, keychain-sized, flashlight (i.e., small & cheap survey) and try to look at a pretty large object at once (i.e., a medium-high complexity research problem) – and, obviously, the results are not satisfactory. What can be done in such a case? Either bring a regular size flashlight (i.e., medium-sized survey) or give up. Of course, keychain-sized flashlights can be very useful, if all you need to do is illuminate small objects.

Some other times people, equipped with a good regular sized flashlight (i.e., enough resources for a solid

medium-sized survey), enter a room stuffed with objects, and they want to see all the objects at once (i.e., they have a lot, and I mean a REALLY LOT of research objectives). In this case, you have to stay in the door and spread the beam in an extremely wide angle and that means a very thin, diffuse light which allows you to see, well, basically nothing – not good for business.

The sensible thing to do is to step inside the room and narrow the beam until you see the objects good enough (i.e., bring your objectives to a realistic level of focus).

If you still want to see more objects, you can:

  • Bring a more powerful flashlight (pour more resources in an extended survey), if possible, but:

o A powerful flashlight requires more powerful, more expensive batteries (i.e., you need much more resources).

o A powerful flashlight it’s heavier and much more difficult to manipulate, to bring it into optimum

position and keep it steady (i.e., large surveys are quite difficult and time-consuming to properly set up).

o The line between a powerful and a much too powerful flashlight is thin, hard to identify, but easy to

cross (i.e., large surveys can easily balloon and become too large, bloated and very likely to bore the

respondents to death, thus lowering data quality – leading to less real light being available). The most

worrisome part is that people often realize they crossed that line AFTER they switch on the light.

  • Another, much better, option is to use the additional resources to bring more regular sized flashlights, each one covering a different part of the room (i.e., use the same resources but spread between more surveys, each focused on a different areas).

Besides avoiding all the pitfalls of oversized flashlights, this approach allows greater flexibility – you can change the focus and illumination angle of each individual flashlight (i.e., you can fine tune each individual survey for each particular area; sometimes it's best to use different approaches for different research objectives) and you can turn on the flashlight all at once or one by one, as needed (i.e., you don’t to raise and spend all the resources (money and time) at once, if you don’t have to).

More often than not, turning the flashlights on one by one is ideal from a business perspective, since you cannot keep your eyes on too many objects simultaneously (i.e., you rarely can address all the areas at once, usually this is done sequentially and by the time you reach the last area, the information might be outdated).

Back to our starting room (the current state of the environment in which the business is operating), it has a door which connects it directly with another room (the state of the environment in the near future), which in turn it’s connected with the following room (the state of the environment a bit further in time) and so on.

There are some cases when people enter the first room, carrying with them a good regular flashlight, otherwise perfectly capable to shed light on any object in this room, but they are trying to look directly at another object in one of the next rooms. This can sometimes work, but only if:

  • That room is close enough, so the light doesn’t lose its power (i.e., you’re not trying to see too far in the future where the outlook is fuzzy by definition)

  • The door to that room is not outright closed (i.e., there are some extremely dynamic markets / areas where even the near future is very hard / impossible to survey).

So, as long as you don’t expect The Sun in your pocket, instead of a flashlight, you will be fine.

Just make sure you pick the right room and objects to look at and use the right flashlight for each job at hand.

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