VW is at the middle as one of the biggest industrial scandal in the year. The company is said to have been caught cheating on American air pollution tests. Volkswagen installed sophisticated software known as “defeat devices” in the electronic control module of diesel vehicles issued between 2008 and 2015. This software was able to sense when emissions test was in progress based on the position of the steering wheel, vehicle speed, the duration of the engine’s operation and barometric pressure. Once the software picked up on these inputs, it went into a type of “test mode” when the front wheels of the car were on a dynamometer. This allowed emissions controls to run full-tilt during official testing, but emitted 10 to 40 times the legal amount while on the road. Once regulators demanded an explanation, the EPA said Volkswagen “admitted” their cars contained those defeat devices. The brand can risk until 23 billion dollars fine which might be calculated on the basis of $37,500 per vehicle with the amount of almost 500.000 vehicles in USA.
I don’t want to focus on the roots and the consequences of the scandal. I would like to focus on the importance of testing and the numerous pitfalls to avoid – through the lens of the VW case:
The survey is a direct way of collecting quantitative, or numerical, information and qualitative, or descriptive, information. When there are errors in the survey design, marketing research problems can surface. For example, a company might use a method that is designed to collect a random sample from the target consumer population, but the method is not really random. Therefore, the organization cannot generalize its survey results to represent the target population. For VW, the survey was badly designed, now it’s an evidence.
One marketing research problem relates to how the survey is offered to the target or to the specialists. We look at reasons why people might participate but be not completely honest or play a role in the process. We all know that checking elements in a non-realistic environment can lead to a wrong attitude and a lack of clarity for the research. And it might reach conclusions such as the survey takes too much effort or lead to wrong conclusions very quickly.
A survey might include one or more sources of bias. The testing should cover all the necessary sources and stimuli to avoid any wrong understanding. And it might include a multiple testing process. A research format and content must be acceptable to all audiences, all sources, all techniques that might be necessary to insure proper conclusions.
Some marketing research involves observing consumers in action and noting their preferences. Marketers can become intrusive, interfering with a consumer’s experience to the point that a consumer feels disgusted and leaves the business site. In the case of VW, it does not seem that a stage of observation in real conditions was considered.
Don’t let research become your worst nightmare. You have to take all the necessary conditions to be sure about what you want to discover. We all understand that testing might be extremely important and should be an efficient decision-making tool but, we have to understand better how this testing should be done, should be tracked and should be interpreted. In the case of VW, it seems that everything was done in a bad way, which allowed the brand to pass-by some important rules. We can even think that VW is not the only evil mind in all this story. Das Ist Problem.