What Next Gen Market Researchers Share with Motorcycle Gangs

1 percent of marketing research

Thoughts on What NGMR Means and Why It’s Time to Claim “The 1%” of Market Research

Our recent refresh of the Next Gen Market Research blog prompted me to reflect on why I started this group back in 2007 and to consider what NGMR is really about today.

When NGMR began on LinkedIn, it was the first professional networking group for researchers focused on innovation. There have been several copycats since, and I think the rising tide lifts all boats; however, it does point to the need to more clearly define what NGMR is/should be.

So today I’m going to attempt to define what we’re about here and, at the same time, to offer a challenge to NGMR members.

Innovation vs Efficacy (and the Scientific Method).

NGMR grew rapidly from the outset, and somewhere along the way I recall feeling a little discouraged by the bar for “innovation” I saw being set in some of the group’s discussions. I don’t mean to pick on them, but, for example, I recall one company pushing a Twitter analysis product where the data was coming from “bots”! I don’t mean that bots were asking questions, but that bots were created to mimic certain demographics, and it was proposed that the tweets from these bots were somehow worthy or better to analyze than the tweets from actual people.

Neuroscience was another area ripe with exaggeration and puffery. Several of the early players in this space later ended up losing credibility based on what they had originally claimed, proving you can only fool some of the people for so long…

What then is true Innovation in Marketing Research you may ask. Certainly it is about doing one or more of the “Faster, Cheaper, Better”. The old axiom is, you can choose any two of these. Often times today “Innovators” choose Faster and Cheaper. But even if your new product is faster and cheaper, YOU CAN NOT ignore “Better”! ANY new innovation for marketing research has to meet at least one quality criteria, and that criteria is the scientific method. I.e. results must be repeatable and based on the basic methodological best practices marketing research was founded on.

It’s not that I believe innovation should be slow, nor that small relatively insignificant changes should be packaged as innovative. Does anyone remember the fuss just migrating a phone survey to the “Interweb” caused back in the day? Mercy! This, by the way, says a lot about the market research industry. Ours has historically been a conservative lot.

The more recent trend seems to be that everyone tries to incorporate the latest buzz word into their old research methodology. This isn’t any better.

We need true innovation! True innovation comes from thinking outside the box, and breaking the conventional rules WITHOUT sacrificing the core principle of market research, aka the scientific method.

Threats VS Opportunity

So what? Marketing Research is an industry where every single technologist from other industries seems to be looking to make a quick buck. A natural feature of any software is input and output. Among those not familiar with marketing research methodology and best practices all input and output may seem just as good.

NOT SO, says the practitioner trained in research methodology. There are a number of considerations that can affect data quality, and bad data is worse than no data at all! Likewise dashboards for the sake of dashboards, without meaningful output can be just as dangerous.

Herein lies the opportunity for those few of us who on one hand understand the basic principles of proper research methodologies, and on the other, are also willing and able to distinguish and embrace that which can improve on research process while rejecting those innovations which are just a shiny new toys but lack basic usefulness (i.e. principles on which the scientific method and marketing research are based).

We (NGMR members) are a rare combination comprising the best of old with the best of the new. Truly, Faster, Cheaper AND Better!

Good researchers have an obligation to evaluate and criticize innovation, while also remaining fair and open to ‘breaking the rules’ when it makes sense.

Do’s and One Don’t

If there were to be a code by which NGMR members operate, I propose it might be along these lines:

  • Do: Challenge the status quo (but only when there is proof that something can be done better differently);
  • Do: Embrace thinking and techniques from other disciplines (BI, CI, IT, psychology, economics, etc.);
  • Do: Strive toward the end goal of actual, useful applied techniques (versus theories that can never be proven or disproven);
  • Do Not: Abide anything that restricts an individual practitioner or firm from developing something that does one of the do’s. (This includes certain rules and regulations, standardizations of data, etc.)

Be the 1%! Be the Outlaw!

“The 1%” has become synonymous with income inequality, but did you know the term originally referred to outlaw motorcycle gangs? I like to think of Next Gen Market Researchers as outlaw bikers—“1%ers.”  Hear me out…

NGMR Outlaw Marketing Researchers

I actually have a motorcycle license. I took the DMV’s Motorcycle Safety and Training course. I studied the manual, practiced in the parking lot with cones and instructors, and learned exactly what my state’s Department of Motor Vehicles and the U.S. Department of Transportation think good motorcycling is all about. I aced their test and I have a license. Yes, I was one of the folks in the picture on the right.

On the left we have outlaw bikers. The term “1%er” references a statement from the American Motorcycle Association in the 1940s to the effect of “99% motorcyclists are law-abiding citizens” (implying, of course, that the other 1% were not). Biker gangs, which actually started appearing as veterans returning from the war became disenchanted with conformity and drawn to the freedom motorcycles represented, gladly embraced the “1%” moniker.

I realize biker gangs don’t have a great reputation, but, honestly, which group do you think knows more about motorcycling? Which group contains the more skilled riders? Who knows more about the machine? Who understands the rules well enough to know when to break them?

I like the idea that a group of experts who really know their craft can come together to learn from each other. They reject definitions, rules, and standards they see as unnecessary and limiting, but they love and respect the underlying machinery (methodology in our case).  In fact, they are the first to question technology for the sake of technology (take Japanese “crotch rockets,” for example, a technological ‘innovation’ that disregards comfort and prove impractical for rides of any serious duration, these are not the mode of choice for most motorcycle clubbers).

I think Next Gen Market Researchers should embrace being the 1%ers of market research. We know the discipline inside out; we can take apart our motorcycle piece by piece and know exactly how each part works.  We’re not afraid to experiment and try new things learning from each other. And we have the experience and expertise to question notions, rules, and standards that limit us, and to also question calling something an innovation that doesn’t amount to a significant improvement to the core utility of what we do.

We are experts who want to push each other and to get smarter together, who would dare to fail forward, and who will not allow ourselves to be defined by those who would protect the status quo, nor those who would claim innovation without efficacy. Would you be a market research 1%er?  Do you consider yourself a Next Generation Market Researcher?

I do and I hope you’ll join me.




Often market research trade orgs are all about standards for the sake of standards, and even offer sometimes offer little acronyms for folks to put after their titles. So for fun I asked our graphic designer to put together a couple email signature badges (below). If you like one, and are a true master of marketing research, BOTH traditional techniques and Next Gen methods, feel free to help yourself to one! 😊


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3 Comments on "What Next Gen Market Researchers Share with Motorcycle Gangs"

  1. Good post Tim.

    I’ll bring my Harley Davidson to TMRE!

  2. Tom, I’m not sure who Tim is but I’ll still bring my Harley.

  3. Glad former President of ESOMAR is an NGMR Outlaw!

    Feel free to share a pic of you on the Harley here before the TMRE 😉

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