Sources of Stakeholder Conflict in Market Research

Be Prepared to Address Different Views of Market Research Integrity and Ethics

Image is of a group of business people engaged in serious conversation.
Conflict Among Stakeholders Engaged in a Research Project Is Common. Getty Images | Uwe Umstatter | Radius Images

Market research is conducted in a variety of environments and for a range of clients, both internal and external. As with any group endeavor, views about the ends and means of the project typically span a wide spectrum. An important aspect of a market researcher's job is navigating these different perspectives while maintaining the ethical standards that are essential for producing quality research findings.

Four categories for considering the most common challenges in the "ethics dance" are discussed below.

Knowledge Gap

Market researchers have specialized knowledge that may not be understood or possessed by their managers. While business managers and research sponsors may have many strong skills, they have typically not been exposed to formal research methodology or received training in research science. In addition, business managers and research sponsors do not necessarily have an understanding of the ethics involved in conducting market research

Market researchers who have gained expertise through years of conducting a variety of scientific studies may find it challenging to convincingly convey ethical standards to clients or their managers. The knowledge gap is increasing as sophisticated technology permits market research to be conducted in digital environments. Managers may need to depend on market researchers to be knowledgable about the ethical standards to which market research should be held.

Job Status & Internal Politics

The relationship between a business manager and a market researcher can be filled with tension. A market researcher's job is to test ideas. This may threaten an insecure manager who may see the market researcher as a rival for his job and authority. Part of the problem is that a manager may not be well versed in research methods while the market researcher is an expert.


Corporations have distinct cultures and political dynamics that put pressure on the members of the organization. A market researcher in the company will need to consider the relative positions of the members of the various departments and of the executive team. The niches that people in corporations inhabit and the coalitions they form are typically self-serving. 

The research objectives of a market researcher's pet project may be blocked or the finding distorted to meet the self-serving needs of others in the market research provider firm or the business that hired the research team

"To allow one's operations to be probed with a critical eye may be to invite trouble from others competing for promotion, resources, or other forms of organizational power." ~ Cooper & Schindler (2011)

Off-Target Market Research

Business research is intended to assist decision-making and to solve problems. Market research is focused on decision making related to increasing market share, determining the best marketing strategies or product development paths, understanding consumers' perceptions of a brand, and measuring the impact of advertising in terms of brand lift and brand awareness.

The value of market research hinges on the capacity of the findings to be applied to critical or strategic decisions.

Market researchers should be good stewards of company resources and guard against unnecessary or off-target market research. The influence of research sponsors, clients, or managers can steer the purpose of market research in directions that don't warrant the cost of the research project. 

"If a study does not help management to select more efficient, less risky, or more profitable alternatives than otherwise would be the case, the researcher has an ethical responsibility to question its use." ~ Cooper & Schindler (2011)

The Right to Access Quality Research

The stakeholders in a market research project have a right to receive quality research findings that have been achieved through ethical processes that follow the analytical rules and conditions designed to produce accurate findings.

The right to quality market research includes the following:

  • Providing a research design appropriate for the research question.
  • Maximizing the sponsor's value for the resources expended.
  • Providing data-handling and data-reporting techniques appropriate for the data collected. 

                                                       ~ Cooper & Schindler (2011)

Market researchers must hold the line when research study sponsors request, for instance, sophisticated techniques for handling data that are not appropriate for the current research problem. Market researchers have an ethical obligation to propose research activities that are a good fit for the research questions and to avoid research activities that are intended to "maximize researcher revenue or minimize the researcher effort at the sponsor's expense" (Cooper & Schindler, 2011).

For more information about the ethical relationship between market researchers and research sponsors, clients, and managers, refer to this article.