What’s Wrong with Polling

The recent polling leading up to the New Hampshire primary shows just how useless it can be. The media eats it up because they use polls to generate news content. It doesn’t matter how (in)accurate it is. When the primary was over, and the actual results proved the polling wrong, pundits declared the reasons for the discrepancies. Oddly enough, everything they mentioned had occurred prior to the voting.

We need to treat polling like research. We should do and analyze polling for making decisions, not knowing something for the sake of knowing. It doesn’t matter who is favored to win the election, it just matters who wins. Just like it doesn’t matter who is favored to win the playoff game this weekend. What matters is the team that actually wins. Otherwise, why bother playing the game?

I made a presentation yesterday to a company pitching for their business. The discussion of market research came up and what I would expect to get from it. The reality is that it will help determine how to market the brand and what messages to use. Knowing that someone likes a product really doesn’t help if we don’t find out why or if they would even buy it.

Getting started with a research project doesn’t have to be an expensive proposition. You need to know what you want to know, what is going to be a decision point. If 33% of people think favorably of my product that’s not necessarily good or bad. I can’t make a decision based on that. If 50% tell me that the packaging doesn’t match the price or desired image or that they can never find it on the shelf, then I have some direction and can start making decisions.

Remember awareness does not lead to action. Simply because people like something doesn’t mean it will sell. People need a reason to buy and access to the product.

Use research to figure why they will (or will not) buy your product and where they would expect to find it. Use it to determine if you packaging meets expectations. Use it to make sure your message resonates.

Don’t use it just to have a number. You’ll be wasting your time and money.

OK, so maybe I’ve been a little harsh on polling. It’s not all bad. It works when used to guide decisions. And if the average citizen is using polls reported in the media for deciding his or her vote, then we are in big trouble. Maybe I’ll conduct a poll of my own. How many of you…

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