Does Market Research add value to the quality of Human Life?
I often wonder if my life’s work was useful in any way and if it deserved to be paid with currency that buys real products that are needed to sustain life such as food and drink. I heard some people refer to market research and other professional services as “selling air”. Quite a disturbing thought should it be true. While running one Saturday morning, this thought just came came to me that all commerce starts from those who produce food; the farmers — its funny how our brains work; where do all these thoughts come from? But I digress, this is rather a question for another post. All other professions would not exist if it weren’t for farmers and maybe to a lesser extent fishermen and hunters, if we are to consider hunting a job.
But let’s start from ground zero; what do humans need in order to be alive and functional? To start with they need air to breath, without it they can only stay alive for a few minutes; without water they can survive for a few days and without food maybe a few weeks (depending on how much fat they amassed prior to starving themselves to death).
From the top 3 necessities for human life it is quite interesting that the most critical and urgent is the one that is available in abundance and for free: breathable air. Water can still be free but most “modern” humans choose to buy bottled water. So far so good.
Once the 3 basics are covered, maybe we can rank shelter as 4th and from there on move to a super category that for lack of a better word I will call “the pursuit of happiness”.
Under this super category let’s include:
- Love and being loved
- Fulfilment — purpose, self-worth, professional success, achievements
- Spirituality — religion and mind stuff
- Entertainment — arts and sports
I am not sure what to do with health; is it a hygiene factor (no pun intended) that only its absence makes it noticeable and worthy… but then again, the same applies for air and it is ranked #1. The next step in this train of (loud) thought is to connect these needs with commercial professions, jobs, that earn an individual money; then we need to search and find out where market research belongs.
In the table below, market research is nowhere to be found:
So where is market research? Does it have a place in a ranking like this or is it just “air”; something that is not exactly necessary for fulfilled, meaningful human life? If all the market research professionals disappeared tomorrow… would the world stop functioning? Then again if the movie industry or the casinos or alcohol vanished, would the world stop functioning? It looks like the ranking may simply depend on how we frame the question.
Let’s see if we can make any sense of this by trying to sequence what is sold and bought in the right order. Assuming that the commercial world starts today:
- First people will create instruments to plant things or to capture some animals for farming; with 7.5 Billion people on the planet this is not sustainable or efficient and thus not scalable. Homo sapiens has figured out early enough that working in groups and focusing on a job they do well is a more effective way to live since they can barter the fruits of their labour with something they need, that is produced by someone else much more efficiently than if they attempted to create everything they needed, themselves.
- That is why the commercial transactions on day one will be the food producers selling food so that people can eat to stay alive.
- People also need clothes and a place to live and cook the food they bought. So, after the farmers it looks like we need builders, textile manufacturers, tailors and shoemakers.
- In our homes we need some convenience, so the furniture and kitchen equipment makers come next.
- For all this commerce to happen we need currencies, barter is not good enough for the complexity of the world we live in; this makes the governments and the financial institutions (well not all of them… maybe we can live without hedge funds, PE groups, and stock exchanges) a necessary vertical for all the selling and buying to happen.
- Once our bellies are full if we don’t belong to any of the above professions, we start looking around, bored, for something interesting to do. This is where education, healthcare, entertainment and other professions come into the picture.
Because many groups of humans (i.e. companies) choose to do the same job, we end up having competition for a fixed pool of money. Each company is trying to maximise its share from the fixed pool because by now we all realise that with more money we can buy more goods and services that contribute to our happiness. After survival and procreation, happiness is the third most important striving of human beings. It is an elusive state that is often associated with having a lot of money… along with love and the sense of purpose and belonging. Still no sign of market research. Well it is getting warmer though, the moment the word competition appeared in this narrative, light at the end of the tunnel started to shine. After all, there might still be hope that market research is a necessary job in order to maximise the money a company earns (and by extension the money its people make). One could draw the conclusion that more money means more happiness… you see where this is going. Yes, precisely, market research brings happiness to certain people who use it well in order to compete commercially and earn a larger slice of the proverbial “pie” than others. All commerce can be seen as a big game, not too dissimilar from Monopoly; we are trying to win, to make more money than other people — as it may be a zero sum game — so that we can add an important ingredient into the “happiness soup” (money) along with whatever else makes us tick: love, sense of belonging, purpose, power and crazy fun of all sorts. It seems that market research is the secret weapon that helps the few that know about it and use it well to win e.g. P&G, Coca-Cola, Nestle, Unilever and the list goes on. What the companies on this list have in common is that they are blue-chip multinationals. What is missing from this list are SMEs; Someone ought to democratise market research so that more people will have access to it so that more people will be happy — a very logical conclusion I find.
It looks like market research — if done right- is not “air” after all, it is a tangible service that helps sell more products — like food — and as friend of mine once said: unless someone sells something, NOTHING happens.
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Originally published at www.digital-mr.com.