Wednesday, March 16, 2011

You need to read the small print before believing market research

The Harris Poll of about 3000 Americans generated a news release with the tag line that: “People over 65 less likely than younger generations to be taking some steps to economize.”

That conclusion chimes with my own gut feeling but I thought it worth looking to see what evidence Harris produces to justify the conclusion.

First things first. It should go without saying that the 66+ is a hell of a lot of people at various stages of their lives with a host of different lifestyles in multiple socio-economic groups. Hence, talking about their behavior as a group is a pretty fruitless exercise. But let’s not be critical since most organizations continue to talk about generations as if they were a homogeneous lump of humanity.

The devil is in the detail when it comes to these research findings.

Firstly the method of conducting the research was online. The research methodology contains an interesting statement. “Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.” I wonder what that means when you consider that according to Pew Internet only 44% of Americans aged 65-73 have home broadband falling to 20% of those 74+. I think we can safely say that the majority of Harris’s 65+ group is off-line.

The numbers in the above graphic result from the question: "Have you done or considered doing any of the following over the past six months in order to save money?" So if I had a fleeting thought about cutting down on the amount of coffee I drink I would have answered the question in the affirmative. Vague or what? Surely, to make such a profound statement the question should have asked if people had actually changed their behaviour, not just thought about it.

Finally, the results from the research might say more about the habits of older people than they do about how the recession has influenced their thinking. For instance, the question about cancelling a landline phone and relying on a mobile is probably totally related to the uptake of mobile phones. In fairness, Harris does recognize this causation issue in the case of the question about brown-bagging lunches that relates to the number of people still working rather than a genuine change in purchasing behavior.

So what is the bottom line for the usefulness of this research? As viewers of Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In will remember (if they are of a certain age) -interesting but useless. Dick Stroud


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Anonymous said...

Very relevant piece.

Rowan & Martin's German Steel helmeted Army grunt was "very interesting...but stupid"

Dick Stroud said...

You are right. I knew it didn't sound right! Thanks