Henry Ford on Market Research
It's practically a Godwin's Law of market research: "As a discussion of new product development grows longer, the probability of a citation of Henry Ford approaches 1."
You know the quotes:
- "If I asked my customers what they want, they simply would have said a faster horse."
- "People can have the Model T in any color--so long as it's black."
Ford is making the point that customers don't know what they want and can't articulate their needs. He was also in favor of constraining choices in order to reduce manufacturing costs. As Sheryl Connelly pointed out in her AMA MRC presentation "Envisioning the Future at Ford", every Model T was black not from any consumer preference but simply because black was the fastest drying paint.
Well, to quote Ford again, "History is more or less bunk."
The horse, as noble and beautiful an animal as it is, makes for pretty impractical transportation. Speed was probably not one of the major concerns of horse owners. Imagine interviewing those owners about what they wanted. Those who weren't farmers owned a horse as transportation. They had to feed it, groom it, exercise it and--yikes--muck out the stable, even on days they weren't going anywhere. If Henry Ford had asked me, I would have said I wanted a horse that didn't eat and excrete.
Michele Harris of Applied Marketing Science put it well:
The bottom line is that customers usually aren't very good at describing solutions. But when properly asked, they're very good at describing their needs - what they like, what they don't like, what makes their lives hard or easy, what they wish for, and what they're trying to get done. And after all, it's not the customer's job to come up with the solution - that's the developer's job! Their job is just to articulate their needs.
Our job as market researchers is to thoroughly identify sources of dissatisfaction with current products and services. Sometimes we can identify solutions to those issues, but the majority of times the research and development arm of our companies and our clients will need to use those items of dissatisfaction as a source of inspiration. Working together with market research, R&D can uncover the next automobile industry or smart-phone industry. They can invent the "faster horse".
For some additional quotes and commentary that segue from our modern Henry Ford (Steve Jobs) to Ford himself, see Apple Does No Market Research So You Don't Have To Either.