Q. What’s The Difference Between a Good Haircut and a Bad One?

A. About two weeks.

Did you know that to become a barber requires 1,500 hours of training and a two-year apprenticeship? That it takes even longer to get a cosmetology license?

Yet MBA programs say you can learn to be a researcher by taking a single course that requires you attend only three hours a week for a few months. And for-profit companies offer training programs that last only a few days or a few weeks.

Little wonder we see so many examples in the news about research studies that are self-serving, manipulated, and just plain boneheaded.

Would you hire a CPA or lawyer or dentist that took only one college course? Or would you want one that earned an appropriate degree over years of intensive and advanced study? The math is simple:

One semester = 36 hours. Six years of academic rigor = 12,000 hours.

Nothing prevents people from calling themselves researchers. Would you be surprised to learn that more than half of the people who provide Consumer and Market Research services lack the education and training to conduct studies of any real value? That their real talents are in sales and client relationship management?

The problem is not that there are no capable in-house researchers and contract research providers. There are excellent, good, fair, and poor ones, just like any other occupation.

The problem is that most organizations lack the ability to determine which is which. They think that because marketing and market research sound so much alike that all marketers must have market research skills.

Think of it this way: Astrology and Astronomy sound a lot alike, too, but one is a science, while the other is sometimes an amusement and sometimes a con game designed to separate people from their money. Neither an Astrologer nor an Astronomer would be very good at the other’s job.

Sounding alike is not a good reason to put the two together. In fact, there is one powerful reason why they should not: the focus of marketing is to influence people, while the focus of research is to understand them.

When it comes to choosing someone to do your Consumer and Market Research, start by insisting your staff and contract researchers hold advanced degrees in the Behavioral Sciences.

If your barber screws up your haircut, it’ll grow back in a few weeks. If you or the people you hire screw up your research, you can make some very bad business decisions that have much more far-reaching consequences.