Research / Tait Martin

Does Your Research Still Suck?

This post, from Taproot’s Greatest Hits archive, was originally published on April 18, 2013.


Two days ago, I received this email from a former colleague:

“Tait, a couple of years back you wrote a blog about how to tell if your research sucks. Please send me a copy of your list so I can present it to my staff and board of directors. These people need help!”

The 2011 blog post was titled, “Some reasons why your research sucks…and how to find a strong research partner.” The post was in response to a blog written by Dr. Annie Pettit, Chief Research Officer of Conversition Strategies.

Dr. Pettit posited that if you were responsible for “research that sucked,” it was probably due to one of the following:

  • You didn’t have a trained, experienced researcher at the helm.
  • You failed to identify and follow through on specific objectives.
  • You focused on price and speed rather than quality and quantity.
  • You don’t follow through on the results.

Dr. Pettit’s list is succinct, but not inclusive.  I’ve had a couple of years to add a few more signs that your research — and your organization’s approach to conducting research — probably sucks:


  • Your research department consists of an intern doing Google searches;
  • Your research is overruled by the owner of the company because he/she “knows the right answers”;
  • Your analysis is dependent only on crosstab “banners” and prayer;
  • Your focus group recruiting plan is calling friends to come by for a conversation and a free sandwich;
  • Your creative department doesn’t use your research because they think you and “your numbers” are confusing;
  • You automatically revert to the methodology that you know: “We always do focus groups!” or “We have to do a survey!”;
  • Your idea of random sampling is “whoever walks in the office” or anyone who answers a Facebook ad;
  • You find out what the population thinks by simply searching hashtags on Twitter;
  • You try to do trendy things like develop “games” or “fun scenarios” without understanding the underlying psychological principles behind the methods;
  • You’ve been told, “Your job is on the line” if the results don’t come back favorable;
  • You only sample people who you know will give your “good” answers;
  • You are more worried about “not upsetting the client” than finding out what’s really going on.


If any of these describe the way you collect data or view research, then it’s time to find a credible, seasoned research partner.

Strong research should be the foundation of every strategy — no matter if you’re launching a new product, developing an outreach campaign, or implementing a behavior-change approach.

Research should be done by people trained to do it.  So many times, organizations try to make vital decisions based on the work of the inexperienced.  Here are the questions you should ask a potential research partner:

  • Will the research be led by a Ph.D. (or someone with proper credentials and experience) who is well versed in the methodologies and analyses pertinent to my project?  (The answer should be “YES”)
  • How comfortable are you with challenging a client’s ideas? (The answer should be “YES” — if they say “The client is always right,” you should RUN)
  • What professional organizations are you active in? (They should be active in at least three with one being specifically focused in the practice of research)
  • What methodologies have you used to understand (insert your issue here)? Can you give examples? (If they can’t give examples, go somewhere else)
  • Would you provide references for your research capabilities? (Quality researchers have at least five references they can rattle off immediately who would vouch for their work)
  • How many people are on your research team? What are their backgrounds? (You want to be able to work with people who understand your field)
  • What experience do you have working with other teams like creative, public relations, human resources, management, etc.? (Strong researchers should be able to make the data meaningful for all of your organization’s teams)


When done well, research can unlock incredible creative potential and open a direct route to the hearts and minds of the people who matter most to you.

Be smart and partner with an insight team who uses appropriate, valid methods to meet your specific needs. Don’t waste your time — and money — doing research that sucks.