I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Market Research

April 9, 2020

by Deb Gabor

I was successfully click-baited a few days ago by a MarketingWeek article. I can usually avoid temptation, but this one’s a guilty pleasure. Here’s the headline: “Ben & Jerry’s CEO on why too much market research can cause mediocrity.

What an irresistible headline. I agree 100% – although what they’re saying is a little different than what the headline might have you believe (surprise, surprise).

As a brand aficionado and creator of marketing that sells, I’m usually engaged in some kind of market research on behalf of companies. Market research can be incredibly helpful. It uncovers truths about your business that you may not have known before. I use it to gain valuable insights from employees, competitors, and most importantly customers.

Branding is an outside-in activity.

Brands are created by customer perception, not the company itself. Market research allows you to speak to your customers about their perceptions of your brand. This is required for companies to be successful at branding.

The disconnect here is over the term “market research.” 

Ben & Jerry’s CEO Matthew McCarthy makes a good point when he says that endless tests with audiences who aren’t consuming your product in the wild is not the way for a company to innovate – especially a food company. This method encourages tedium, a general averaging of ideas until everything interesting is ironed out. Call it the vanilla approach.

But that’s not the only form that market research takes. Any time a company is learning about their products or services from the feedback of customers, that’s market research. Ben & Jerry’s CEO is making a distinction between market research that’s forced and formal, and the performance of their product in the market.

For brands to be innovative, they have to stay in touch with their customers and try new things.

Part of the Ben & Jerry’s brand is to be entrepreneurial, innovative, and authentically attached to their roots. They’re a down-to-earth brand that has ascended to a position of leadership among other activist brands. Everything they do is designed to respond to, or bond with, their ideal customers. That includes trying new things, and always innovating new flavors for their ideal customers to enjoy.

Every brand should be in a constant state of investigation and discovery where their customers are concerned. They should be identifying hopes, dreams, fears, desires, challenges, issues, lifestyle cues, needs – anything that can help them better understand their customers. Understanding your customers leads directly to understanding your own brand.

Market research isn’t dead. It provides vital information that sets you on the path to creating Irrational Loyalty for everyone who uses your product or service. Just beware of the rocky road of product testing.


Deb Gabor has written the book on branding (twice!) with bestsellers Branding is Sex and Irrational Loyalty. She’s the founder and CEO of Sol Marketing, a strategy-led marketing firm obsessed with solving major business and branding problems for clients in every industry. Companies throughout the world use Deb’s Brand Values Pyramid, Ideal Customer Archetype, and “Brand Swagger Questions” to align their teams and articulate their brands to audiences.