Market research bias = market research errors.

Bias in your market research will confuse your findings…and YOU!

Excellent piece from Skyword’s Carlos García-Arista on the problem (and some solutions for it) of bias in market research.

Although the main thrust of the article is political campaign polling research, the points made and suggestions offered apply to all market research.

How the “Year of Polling Missteps” Can Teach Us to Avoid Bias in Market Research

Marketing executives now are very wary of surveys, following the terribly wrong  forecasts in the 2016 Brexit referendum in England and the Presidential election in America.

However, if marketers are aware of potential bias in their surveys, they can take steps to reduce its effects.

The problem with the erroneous Brexit and US Presidential surveys is that all the errors went in the same direction. When that happens, it means that the data contain a bias.

Two Possible Reasons

  1. Biased Non-Response This occurs when only certain kinds of people are willing to give their opinion. Respondents may have been reluctant to reveal their true opinions for fear it might not reflect well on them.

Biased non-response is not exclusive to politics. The market research industry faces exactly the same problem everyday. Think of a survey where only customers with a grudge or “employees of the month” had motives to participate. The results would be skewed in both cases.

  1. Response Bias Sometimes survey responses are not reflective of respondents’ true opinions, because of their other considerations  of how their answers make them appear.

Experts call this the “Bradley effect” after Tom Bradley, an African-American politician who lost the 1982 California governor’s race despite having a big lead in the poll surveys. The resulting  hypothesis is that some voters were not only reluctant to reveal their preference for the white candidate—for fear of opening themselves to criticism—but actually expressed a preference for Bradley to appear more socially accepting, skewing results even further than a non-response.

How to Avoid Bias in Market Research

  1. Preventing Biased Non-Response

Frequently, companies don’t take any measures to determine if their surveys are affected by biased non-response, which means that they may be deciding their next moves based on flawed data.

If marketers identify a non-response bias in their data, it’s still possible that the bias is irrelevant to the matter at hand. For example, if, say, tall people were much more likely to participate in the survey than short people, it wouldn’t make much of a difference.

  1. How to Minimize Response Bias

Put the emphasis on anonymity. When questions are about sensitive or personal topics, sheilding the respodent’s identity can encourage honest feedback. Also, the use of online self-administered questionnaires helps reduce bias.

Word your questions carefully. It’s important to avoid leading or hypothetical questions. The question “How often do you buy on impulse?” would trigger people’s desire to present themselves as rational consumers. Instead, provide a variety of options about making—or not making—“only purchases that are on my shopping list,” and the outcome will be more accurate.

Use indirect questioning. This bias occurs when respondents try to present themselves in a more favorable light. Therefore, one trick that researchers often use is to word their questions so that the participants have to answer from a different perspective. Using the previous example, we could put the question this way: “Under what circumstances do people buy on impulse?”

Market research can be very helpful to a business or organization’s success, but it must be “effective.” That’s the only kind we do at Leverage Research Solutions.


Carlos García-Arista is a Barcelona- based journalist specializing in translation, language and marketing content. Here is the link to the full article.


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