Yahoo Finance recently ran the article titled “Jeff Bezos: ‘Market Research Doesn’t Help“. The catchy title makes it look like Bezos doesn’t believe in the value of market research but that’s not actually what he’s saying. Bezos’s claim is that market research isn’t always the best source for innovative product design. When talking about the development of the Amazon Echo family of devices, Bezos said, “If you had gone to a customer in 2013 and said ‘Would you like a black, always-on cylinder in your kitchen about the size of a Pringles can that you can talk to and ask questions, that also turns on your lights and plays music?’ I guarantee you they’d have looked at you strangely and said ‘No, thank you.’”
The article is a short one but it’s point is well taken. Consumers are generally great improvers but terrible innovators. If Apple had asked cell phone users in 2007 what they wanted to see in a new phone design they would have described something very similar to the existing models from RIM, Nokia, and others. Nobody would have suggested a device lets you make calls but also lets you fling brightly colored birds into a pig-infested structure. With that understanding, ask your students why bother with market research if consumers aren’t good at innovating? Maybe it’s product research that’s not valid but other forms of market research have value? Could product research still have value given the issues mentioned? The answer is yes and it depends a great deal on the process. Rather than ask people what they want or need, good product researchers will study how people use existing products, what problems they experience, and what opportunities are yet to be addressed.