The costs and benefits of market research neutrality

A contact from a well known medtech company came to me with a request for information on a subject that was surprisingly far afield of his company's current markets.  After assisting him with his request, I made note of the potential future market move and was rewarded two months later with news of his parent company's announcement that it was acquiring a new company and signalling a new market move for the company.  I wish I had been free to tell you who it was before the acquisition.  I also wish I was free to tell you about other past or even recent similar inquiries by some well known companies or about new companies that have been very quietly (one might say "stealthily") started by well known medical device industry people.  Suffice it to say that anticipating and analyzing such market moves and other developments is a central part of our effort to reveal challenges and opportunities in medtech markets, and these insights are therefore routinely captured and integrated in our published analyses. We may be tempted to gain the benefit of disclosing this prematurely, but it would come at a cost (foregoing neutrality and the future benefit of a complete analysis).

Neutrality doesn't just come in handy, either.  It is instrumental in enabling us to characterize markets in a defensible manner. For example, if Company A is interested in knowing the detailed status of development of products by Company B, then Company A must either (1) rely on publicly disclosed (e.g., annual report or SEC 10(k) or similar) information (IF, that is, the company is public), (2) devise a research methodology that reveals Company B's info without revealing Company A's identity (also known as corporate espionage) or (3) pursue the information through a neutral, third party source capable of gleaning information from clients and filtering out the inherent marketing hype or other bias in the information.  (I find it more than a little entertaining — it is in fact very telling — when, as has happened on more than one occasion, I have received a call from an "MBA student working on a project" seeking free information from one of our reports, while their Caller ID clearly identifies which company they are working for.  I can only guess how often these "students" try a similar approach of contacting competing medtech companies.)

In this business, where my clients are also the subject of the analysis provided through our reports, I am sometimes constrained from revealing all I know, sometimes at all, but more often only until it can be part of an objective, third party analysis.  Like in journalism, where sources' identities are protected from being revealed, it would not be in my interest to blog about the latest gossip or juicy industry scuttlebutt (a la TMZ).  Until a development is corroborated (both to verify its accuracy and minimize its linkage to one confidential client) or appropriately integrated through methodology into a meaningful analysis, it is merely a tidbit of insight that I do not exploit.

Maintaining neutrality is also very important, especially when there can be enormous pressure to bend to a client's request for coverage of their product, or with their language.  Doing so will sometimes most assuredly result in a sale of the report to those whose interests are more aligned with that company's fortunes (e.g., their management and investors).  However, just as assuredly, if that coverage even appears to the broader audience that we have used a different ruler to measure one client's products, we lose much more in the balance.

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