Avoiding Unethical Market Research Decisions

Handshake_ Featured on www.blog.marketresearch.comBusinesses all have their own ethical obligations. As a market researcher, you too have ethical guidelines you need to keep in mind when preparing to conduct research or start looking for secondary data. To fully understand business ethics, we have provided an ethics checklist, along with a list of common unethical market research concerns that may arise during the research process.

Ethics Checklist 

The following checklist is based off the concepts found in the article “Ethical Codes Are Not Enough” by Michael Hyman, Robert Skipper, and Richard Tansey, which outlines some of the most common causes of unethical decisions. Answering “yes” to any of the following questions could suggest that your decision should be changed or more discussions should be conducted to ensure your business is making the most ethical decision.

  1. Does my decision treat me, or my company, as an exception to the rule?
  2. Would my decision lose profits if customers were aware?
  3. Would I repel qualified job applicants by telling them about my decision?
  4. Does my decision meet other employee’s opinions?
    1. Is my decision partial or biased?
    2. Does it divide the goals of the company?
    3. Will I have to pull rank to make others follow it?
  5. Would I prefer avoiding the consequences of this decision?
  6. Did I avoid any of the questions by telling myself that I can get away with it?

Biggest Ethical Concerns in Market Research

  • Conducting unnecessary research. If you know the research you are about to start conducting is either going to be unbeneficial or the study will not be able to succeed, you probably should not move forward with it. Research is used to answer a question or solve an issue for a company; if the research will not help with those, it should not be done.
  • Performing the wrong research. Researching the wrong problem counts as conducting unnecessary research. It will waste both time and money. Even if you are only purchasing secondary data, you need to consider whether or not you are purchasing reports that will actually be beneficial to your needs. This also can be the case when businesses or groups begin using research for their own political gain.
  • Ignoring ongoing studies. Market research is constantly evolving; therefore, you should look for the most recent data to assist in helping your business’ marketing needs. If you know there is more recent data or current studies that could provide you with the information you need, you should not turn to old or outdated reports. For example, you should not rely on a report you already own just to save money. This is especially important in industries such as healthcare and medical devices.
  • Misusing research according to licensing agreements. One of the most common ethical dilemmas businesses face comes from misusing reports according to the requirements of their license. Sometimes, this occurs because the user does not fully understand the limitations of the different license types. But, other times, companies simply step beyond a license’s boundaries. There are many types of licensing agreements, but the most common options publishers offer are single user or global site licenses. It is important that you recognize the appropriate licensing contract for your company and fully understand its parameters to avoid future issues.

Taking a step back and considering your actions is a great way to make sure you are making an ethical decision. Sometimes, doing what is best for you or your company is not the most ethical option. But, with market research, doing the right thing is usually going to benefit your company more times than not simply because it will save you money in the long run.

If you have any questions regarding your market research decisions, schedule a free consultation with one of our research specialists.

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Thanks for reading!


Caitlin Stewart
Marketing Intern


Topics: Market Research Strategy