Which would you rather hear?  The column I originally wrote for this month’s Alert! was censored.  We won’t go into why, but I thought I would express some thoughts about censorship in general and how it applies to marketing research.

Censorship

I don’t know about you, but I learned a long time ago that you can’t really censor anything.  Given time, truth and opinions have a way of becoming known.  You might succeed in delaying disclosure, but that is all you can ever really accomplish.  I question why people even try, but there is a lot of information which is withheld or which is intentionally delayed.  We live in the age of “spin.”  It has become the norm for people and organizations to selectively withhold information so as to influence the opinions and actions of others. 

Spinning Research Results

I am sure at one time or another you have felt pressure to selectively report results from research studies or to spin the results to cater to what the client desires. 

The first time I encountered this was back in the late 70’s when I had been in the profession just a few years.  A research company client asked me to intentionally modify the results of a study to fit what they expected.  They knew what results their client desired, and wanted the research to conform to those expectations. I refused to do this, and as a result not only lost their business, but never got paid for a few earlier studies we had already completed.   While they reported the results their clients wanted, it was not long before people began to recognize their studies were not accurate.  They subsequently went out of business.  Over the years, I have on numerous occasions been requested to change results to show findings in a “more favorable light;” it is something I strongly resist. 

Spinning and manipulating results is potentially even more problematic when conducting qualitative research.  This is because not only are the results of the groups/IDI’s impossible to duplicate, but also because there is often an abundance of rich clips/quotes to select from.  It is very easy to select only certain quotes and spin a story which fits a preconceived notion.  As researchers we have to separate ourselves from our notions of what the finding should show, and report simply what is there. 

As we become more a part of a client’s team, we at the same time become more aware of what the client expects.  We have traditionally resisted this expectation, and have attempted to frame unbiased questions. As marketing researchers increasingly take on the role of consultants, the pressure to bias results becomes greater.  The actionable results we suggest must be a true reflection of our findings, and not the results of our expectations or biases.

Conclusions

No one wants to be the bearer of bad news. Not only do we fear to a small degree that our clients might,  “shoot the messenger,” and that we will be fired or not paid, but to a greater degree we fear that they will unfairly question our work and how it was conducted;  our research process.

None the less, manipulation of research findings to fit preconceived notions is something we have to all be careful to avoid.  When it occurs, all that is accomplished is to undermine the credibility of the researcher and the profession as a whole.

The Good New or The Bad News? Which would I rather hear? My answer is both.