How does Market Research Rank on Usefulness for Human Life?

How does Market Research Rank on Usefulness for Human Life?

I often wonder if my life’s work was necessary and if it deserved to be paid with currency that buys real products that we can eat and drink in order to sustain life. I heard some people refer to market research and other professional services as “selling air”. Quite a disturbing thought if it were to be true.

During my run last Saturday morning this thought came to me – out of nowhere – that all commerce starts from those who produce food; the farmers. All other professions would not exist if it weren’t for farmers and maybe to a lesser extent fishermen and hunters, if we are to consider hunting a job.

But let’s start from ground zero; what do humans need in order to be alive and functional? To start with they need air to breath, without it they can only stay alive for a few minutes; without water they can survive for a few days and without food maybe a few weeks (depending on how much fat they amassed prior to starving themselves to death).

From the top 3 necessities for human life I find it quite interesting that the most critical and urgent is the one that is available in abundance and for free: breathable air. Water can still be free but most “civilised” humans choose to buy bottled water. So far so good.

Once the 3 basics are covered, I guess I will rank shelter as 4th and from there on move to a super category that for lack of a better word I will call pursuit of happiness.

Under pleasure I am including things like:

  1. Love and being loved

  2. Sex

  3. Fulfilment – purpose, self-worth, professional success, achievements

  4. Spirituality – religion and mind stuff

  5. Entertainment – arts and sports

I am not sure what to do with health; is it a hygiene factor that only its absence makes it noticeable and worthy… but then again, the same applies for air and it is ranked #1.

The next step in this train of (loud) thought is to connect these needs with commercial professions, jobs, that earn an individual money; then we need to search and find out where market research belongs.

In the table below, market research is nowhere to be found:

Rank Human Needs Professions
1 Air none on Earth yet
2 Water bottled water
3 Food animal farming, agriculture, fishing, retail
4 Shelter & Safety real estate, construction, government, legal systems, first responders, clothing & footwear
5 Health hospitals / clinics, pharmaceutical industries, fitness studios
6 Sex the oldest profession but illegal in most countries, safe sex products, kinky products, STD treatments, procreation support
7 Love matchmakers, dating apps, wedding industry
8 Fulfilment education, shrinks
9 Spirituality organised religion, spiritual practices
10 Entertainment theatre, movies, paintings, music, sports, travel, hospitality industry, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, gambling industry
11 Convenience retail, household items, communications, electonics, vehicles, financial institutions









So where is market research? Does it even have a place in a ranking like this or is it just “air”; a nice to have; something that is not exactly necessary for fulfilled, meaningful human life? If all the market research professionals were exterminated tomorrow… would the world stop functioning? Then again if the movie industry or the casinos or alcohol disappeared, would the world stop functioning? It looks like the ranking may simply depend on how we frame the question.

Let’s see if we can make any sense of this by trying to sequence what is sold and bought in the right order. Assuming that the commercial world starts today:

  1. First people will create or buy instruments to plant things or capture some animals for farming; with 7.5 Billion people on the planet this is not sustainable or efficient and thus not scalable. Homo sapiens has figured out early enough that working in groups and focusing on a job they do well is a more effective way to live since they can barter the fruits of their labour with something they need, that is produced by someone else much more efficiently than if they attempted to do it.

  2. That is why the commercial transactions on day one will be the food producers selling food so that people can eat to stay alive.

  3. People also need clothes and a place to live and cook the food they bought. So, after the farmers it looks like we need builders, textile manufacturers, tailors and shoemakers.

  4. In our homes we need some convenience, so the furniture and kitchen equipment makers come next.

  5. For all this commerce to happen we need currencies, barter is not good enough for the complexity of the world we live in; this makes the governments and the financial institutions (well not all of them… I think we can live without hedge funds, PE groups, and stock exchanges) a necessary vertical for all the selling and buying to happen.

  6. Once our bellies are full if we don’t belong to any of the above professions, we start looking around, bored, for something interesting to do. This is where education, healthcare, entertainment, and other professions come into the picture.

As many groups of humans (i.e. companies) choose to do the same job, we end up having competition for a fixed pool of money. Each company is trying to maximise its share from the fixed pool because by now we all realise that with more money we can buy more goods and services that contribute to our happiness.  The fact that happiness is introduced quite late in this train of thought does not mean that it is unimportant. As a matter of fact, after survival and procreation, happiness is the third most important striving of human beings. It is an elusive state that is often associated with having a lot of money… along with love and the sense of belonging and purpose.

Still no sign of market research.

Well it is getting warmer though, the moment the word competition appeared in the previous paragraph I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. After all, there might still be hope that market research is a necessary job in order to maximise the money a company earns (and by extension the money its people make). One could draw the conclusion that more money means more happiness… you see where this is going. Yes, precisely, market research brings happiness to certain people who use it well in order to compete commercially and earn a larger slice of the proverbial “pie” than others.

All commerce can be seen as a big game, not too dissimilar from Monopoly; we are trying to win, to make more money than other people – as it may be a zero sum game – so that we can add an important ingredient into the “happiness soup” (money) along with whatever else makes us tick: love, sense of belonging, purpose, crazy fun of all sorts.

It seems that market research is the secret weapon that helps the few that know about it and use it well to win e.g. P&G, Coca-Cola, Nestle, Unilever and the list goes on. What the companies on this list have in common is that they are blue-chip multinationals. What is missing from this list are SMEs; DigitalMR’s purpose in life is to democratise market research so that more people will have access to it and will be happier as a result - a very logical conclusion I find.  

It looks like market research is not “air” (phewww), it is a tangible service that helps sell more products – like food – and as friend of mine once said: unless someone sells something, NOTHING happens.  

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