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Myth of customer surveys

Someone sent me a magazine article about “what motivates kids to buy.”

MTV Networks asked a group of young adults how they make purchasing
decisions. The author of the article was surprised at the results.

The respondents, aged 18 to 24, said the thing that most influences
their buying decisions was “good quality.” Next on the list was
“trustworthiness.” And then, finally, “workability.”

The writer of the article said these findings were “revolutionary.”
Manufacturers and marketers should “pay attention” to the study, he
said, and start emphasizing these characteristics in their ads.

That would be idiotic.

Surveys can’t tell you anything about why customers buy what they buy.
What surveys do is indicate what customers want you to believe – or
what they want to believe about themselves.

This particular survey used a multiple-choice format. That is the
least reliable of all the unreliable methodologies. Multiple-choice
surveys spoon-feed participants fabricated answers.

You don’t have to be a marketing genius to know that.

Imagine a teacher giving little Johnny multiple choices for why he
failed to bring in his homework. “Johnny, tell me the truth. Were you
too lazy to do it? Or did the dog eat it?”

Imagine a woman discovering lipstick on her husband’s collar asking
him: “Is this from your mistress, your mother, or did the dry cleaner
give you the wrong shirt?”

Is it any wonder that two out of three the participants in the MTV
survey claimed their buying decisions were based on product quality
instead of on “what’s cool” or “what my friends think”?

Never, ever invest in a product that has been inspired by the results
of a focus group or customer survey. Never, ever believe the myth that
if you want to know what to sell your customers, “all you have to do
is ask them what they want.”

Surveys and focus groups can be beneficial if you know how to use
them.

In a recent interview with Fortune*, Steve Jobs talked about how Apple don’t do market research:

“”We did iTunes because we all love music. We made what we thought was the best jukebox in iTunes. Then we all wanted to carry our whole music libraries around with us. The team worked really hard. And the reason that they worked so hard is because we all wanted one. You know? I mean, the first few hundred customers were us.

“It’s not about pop culture, and it’s not about fooling people, and it’s not about convincing people that they want something they don’t. We figure out what we want. And I think we’re pretty good at having the right discipline to think through whether a lot of other people are going to want it, too. That’s what we get paid to do.

“So you can’t go out and ask people, you know, what the next big [thing.] There’s a great quote by Henry Ford, right? He said, ‘If I’d have asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me “A faster horse.” ‘ ”