COUNTER CONVENTIONAL WISDOM
LET ME ASK YOU SOMETHING
Polling The Way To The Ink
There are days that one would swear that a third of the news on the front page of The Wall Street Journal and in the broadcast media comes from polls. Certainly, an amazingly high percentage of news releases that come across any editorial desk (including this one) report that "..six out of ten macramé weavers believe that...", or some such.
Obviously, the poll or survey is a helluva fine way to make a placement for a client. Sometimes.
There is something compelling and intriguing about surveys. Look at how they've taken over election reporting. There is now more coverage of polls and surveys that show how the people plan to vote, or how they view a candidate, than there is of what the candidates stand for. And people apparently want to have an affinity group with whom to identify in their mindless opinions. If 52% of the people feel this way, they seem to say, then I better feel this way too, or I'm in the minority -- and who wants to be there?
But like so many valid marketing or publicity devices, there's an easy tendency to fall into the trap of the mindless press release, too. And it must be assumed that the mindless press release springs from the mindless survey.
Take this one that recently crossed editorial desks...
"Three out of five business executives look for high ethical standards when choosing their personal banks, according to a recent survey conducted for (why embarrass an otherwise top-notch firm?) Communications."
Are they kidding? Who among us, upon seeking a banking relationship, will look for a bank's ethical standards -- unless the bank's been cited on the front page of the local newspaper? Or does that lead really mean that two out of five business executives are perfectly willing to accept unethical standards, etc.?
And if we don't assume that people don't want to do business with unethical banks, how to you check that point? Here's a check for a hundred bucks to use to open an account. Do you ask the officers on the platform to delineate their ethical standards?
Oh -- the survey also showed that 40% of the respondents saw as critically important that senior banking officers were respected and honorable businessmen (not business women?). Does that mean that they not only know how to verify that fact, but that 60% are willing to do business with dishonorable bankers?
This of course is ludicrous, hilariously funny, and embarrassing to the firm that issued the release. It doesn't say much for the research firm that supplied that dubious information, either.
The point is that like overdosing on chocolate or whipped cream, too much of a good thing can make you ill. And too much of a good thing shouldn't mean abdicating intelligence, simply because it is a good thing.
Simply because a good survey gets space or air time doesn't mean that a bad survey will too. It's the validity of the survey that gets the space, in most cases -- not the survey itself. Unless, of course, editors are just as sleepy, jaded, or culpable as are thoughtless surveyors and public relations firms
The serious problem is the Gresham's Law factor, in which the bad drives out the good. It's often important to know how people feel about something. Certainly, THE MARCUS LETTER has devoted a lot of space to advocating the value of research in professional services marketing. But how seriously can anybody take research as a marketing discipline with this kind of nonsense? How long will valid and valuable surveys be acceptable to the press if nonsense like this is promulgated?
Now, we're not talking nuclear physics here. Just a little professionalism. The fact is that the conventional wisdom that surveys always make good print breaks down when the survey itself is silly.