The Paradox of Low Quality and High Use: How Researcher Trust Impacts Market Research Outcomes

Christine Moorman and Jon R. Austin, 1995, 95-116

Research indicates that clients' trust in researchers is crucial to the success of market research relationships. This study suggests an equally critical role for researchers' trust in clients.

Authors Christine Moorman and Jon Austin address the issue of researcher trust in market research relationships by examining how researchers' perceptions of their clients as trustworthy information users influence the way in which they manage the market research process.

In a survey of 185 researchers and a subset of their clients, the authors found:

  • As trust in their clients decreases, market researchers become increasingly concerned about protecting their reputations as credible information providers.

  • These concerns reduce researchers' tendency to use novel and comprehensive research activities.

  • The use of less risky research approaches reduces researchers' perceptions of the quality of the information they are providing to clients.

  • However, the use of less risky research approaches (which are less likely to produce information that contradicts their clients' preexisting beliefs) increases clients' tendency to use market research information.

  • Researcher trust in clients facilitates novel and comprehensive research activities, which researchers perceive as of higher quality, that is, more actionable, creative, and objective. However, the use of novel and comprehensive research activities has no influence on the tendency of clients to use research information.

Managerial Implications
This research indicates that providers and users vary in the degree to which they value risk and novelty in research processes and products: Users tend to value low risk research processes while researchers tend to see the information produced by conservative approaches as of lower quality. While researchers believe that more novel and comprehensive approaches provide higher quality information, they are only likely to engage in such approaches when they trust their clients and do not perceive the need to protect their reputations as credible providers of information.

This study suggests that, as the ultimate users of market information, clients have quite a bit at stake in improving the degree to which their researchers believe they can be trusted. Specifically, if clients can be trusted to use research and to not misuse it, researchers will engage in research activities that improve the actionability, creativity, and objectivity of market research information. However, because clients report greater use of information that researchers rate as being lower in quality, organizations would do well to examine the factors-individual, interpersonal, and organizational-that represent barriers to novel and comprehensive market research activities.

These results also have important implications for how research relationships might be better managed by researchers. Specifically, these findings indicate that clients may be more responsive to how relationships are managed than to the quality of research information. These results add to mounting evidence that researchers need to continue to improve their ability to manage the quality of research relationships, not just the quality of research products.

Christine Moorman is Assistant Professor of Marketing and Jon R. Austin is a Doctoral Candidate at The Graduate School of Business, University of Wisconsin - Madison.

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