Its two & a half years since Steve Jobs left us. His thoughts, his words, his genius creations are a daily part of our lives. Most business communities enjoy reminescing about his brilliance, his design, his products. Yet, if there is one community that has a bit of ambivalence looking at Steve Jobs’ views about their industry, it is the Market Research community.

I found four  quotes from Steve Jobs on Market Research from  Walter Isaacson’s book and media interviews:

1. ‘Customers don’t know what they want until shown.’

During the Macintosh development day, at a retreat someone asked whether Steve thought they  should do some market research to see what customers wanted. “No,” he replied, “because customers don’t know what they want until we’ve shown them.”

2. ‘Did Alexander Graham Bell do any market research before inventing the telephone?’

On the day he unveiled the Macintosh, a reporter asked Jobs what type of market research he had done. Jobs responded by scoffing, “Did Alexander Graham Bell do any market research  before he invented the telephone?” implying that  pathbreaing innovations can never be predicated by Reseaech

3. ‘Read things that are not yet on the page.’

While talking with Isaacson during this biography, Steve wanted to highlight his legacy:’Some people say, “Give the customers what they want.” But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!’” People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.’

4. ‘It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
Now for those of us who have been in Focus Groups we know that it is a great medium of research to draw thoughts & ideas on pre-existing products but when it comes to imagining future product features, its nebulous at best.

All the four quotes referenceing fallacies of Market Research are bang on

You know what, we would completely agree with the four quotes. Market Research cannot predict the future – nor can it tell customers what  they want. Customers don’t know what they want.There’s a lot of good research that shows that people are not able to accurately predict how they would behave in the future. Paraprashing Eric Ries of the ‘Lean Startup’ fame,

asking customers hypothetical questions like, ‘Would you buy my product if it had these three features?’ or ‘How would you react if we changed our product this way?’ is something they just cant visualise & answer correctly.

In RSB’s presentation for Marketeers in using Market Research ‘Help Market Research Help Marketing’ we highlighted that customers & Marketers tend to be past focussed and dont do a good job in imagining the future unless they get concrete products that they can touch & feel. To expect your customers to visualise your non-existant  product/features/solutions the way you think and answer ‘future behaviour’ questions on this imagination is a fantasy. You can find more about the foibles of Market Research on our Pinterest board -

For future oriented innovation research, Market Reserch is unlikey to work but where Market Research works is a posteriori  research – ‘past oriented’ research tht Steve himself followed. Unduerstanding customers – their motivations & behaviour a posteriori – based on empirical research is something that Steve Jobs himself endorsed & followed – things like getting close to the customer & understanding their behaviour  without getting the customers to give their views on ‘future behaviour’. What Steve was against is using Market Research to stifle creativity – using ‘research driving future oriented product featues’ & asking customers what they wanted. These are common misuse of research – and has been documented by researchers themselves and to say Steve Jobs was against Market Research is a big amount of oversimiplification and  plain wrong.

Thanks Steve for explaining the foibles of research – but no dear research-skeptic, don’t throw out the baby with  the bathwater!

You can find a good collection of Pinterest pins on the foibles of Market research here