In 2007, 10,000 people around the globe were asked about portable digital devices. It was part of a study conducted by the global media company Universal McCann. One of the hottest topics at the time was the first iPhone, which was announced but hadn’t yet been released. Once researchers tallied the results, they reached an interesting conclusion: Products like the iPhone are desired by consumers in countries such as Mexico or India, but not in affluent countries. The study stated: “There is no real need for a convergent product in the US, Germany and Japan,” places where, one researcher later theorized, users would not be motivated to replace their existing digital cameras, cellphones, and MP3 players with one device that did everything.
There’s a growing feeling that something is not working with market research, where billions are spent every year but results are mixed at best. Some of the problems relate to the basic challenge of using research to predict what consumers will want (especially with respect to products that are radically different). But marketers face one additional key problem: Study participants typically indicate preferences without first checking other information sources—yet this is very different from the way people shop for many products today.