Everybody loves trend buckers. It’s human nature to laud those we feel are visionaries. It can also be foolish. Take this oft-repeated Steve Jobs statement, for example: “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” 

Entrepreneurs love to recite this mantra when asked to consider market data. Who cares what the public says? Gut feeling tells them otherwise, and they jump aboard the Jobs cargo cult train without a second thought.

Jobs was fired for his “my way or the highway” attitude, but eager founders ignore that. It’s a turnoff, just like the $2,500 Mac and a host of other forgettable unveilings. Sure, Apple was worth $100 billion by the time the iPhone launched, but it’s worth nearly $700 billion now because other companies build and sell software through the App Store.

People who follow Jobs’ approach suffer from confirmation bias, believing that he succeeded because of his stance on research. The truth is that he might have been even more successful if he’d taken a less unorthodox approach.

Here’s the truth: Saying the iPhone couldn’t have been made through testing and iteration is like saying the human eye is too complex to be a result of evolution.

Market Research: Yep, It Works

Why don’t companies engage in market research? First, it takes time, and entrepreneurs hate waiting. Market research gets in the way of launching immediately, feels boring to creatives, and can be imperfect because respondents aren’t always reliable.

Market research isn’t the cool kid; it’s the geek, not the maverick. And rebels don’t do market research, right?

Smart ones do.

Analytics may not be sexy, but it keeps marketing campaigns from failing up to 97 percent of the time. Product managers at Facebook, Google, and Netflix know the No. 1 reason startups tank is lack of market need, which is why they run usability experiments and conduct market research. The goal is to create plans that have some meat to them — strategic plans that provide competitive advantages.

Making the Most of Market Research

Old-fashioned market research wasn’t always dependable, but it’s evolved with technology. Tools like Facebook ads and A/B split-testing software allow direct tests and iterations based on what people do, not what they say they’re going to do. Modern market research is sensible instead of subjective.

Here are three innovative ways to use market research to gain insight into your target audience:

1. Infuse art with data science

The marriage of creative and science is a fantastic union. Don Draper can come up with “It’s toasted,” but a smart analyst can test Draper’s options against others’ to develop winning ideas.

Consider lifestyle brand FitJoy. We couldn’t have successfully marketed it without it being an amazing product already. However, using data, we could see which ads and channels drove the highest sales, doubling down on the winners.

2) Test everything testable

Testing provides validation. Running A/B split tests for different audiences, value propositions, website designs, business models, creative routes, pricing, and product names enables us to evaluate customer touchpoints in multiple ways. 

We use Unbounce landing pages to test all these different assumptions and generate data for almost every client. Because Unbounce doesn’t require any coding, our enterprise clients love not having to go through IT, and our startup clients love not having to tie up precious development resources.

3) Map the road to a statistically significant result. 

Researchers must be confident that they’re getting samples that reflect the target population but aren’t too big or too small. Market research helps us see how long a test should run to provide results. Otherwise, you’ll conclude your test before seeing a valid result.

For example, we calculated that a retargeting audience campaign for ESPEROS, which sells handmade bags, wouldn’t drive a statistically significant result, even over two months, so we downgraded its importance in favor of other tactics.

As Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the face.” Why wait for a concussive blow to find out your plan is defective? Collect market data, crunch the numbers, and set yourself up to scale your company based on evidence, not conjecture.


Jon Brody is CEO and co-founder at Ladder, an ROI-driven growth solutions company that is a one-stop shop for growing businesses across all marketing channels and funnel stages.