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  • Writer's pictureKristin Harper

Lessons from the Past: Madam C.J. Walker and the Power of Inclusive Market Research

Photo by Scurlock Studio (Washington, D.C.) (photographers) Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History: Archives Center

In the spirit of Black History Month, we turn our attention to an inspiring figure in American history whose story offers valuable insights for today's businesses: Madam C.J. Walker, one of the first self-made female millionaires in the U.S.

Born Sarah Breedlove, Madam C.J. Walker was an African American entrepreneur who built a successful beauty product empire in the early 20th century. According to, at a time when most beauty products were not designed with Black consumers in mind, Walker recognized an untapped market: hair care products specifically for African American women.

Walker's success didn't just stem from her innovative products; it was her deep understanding of her target market that truly set her apart. After experimenting with her own ingredients, says the National Museum of African American History & Culture, she began marketing her products across the country. She conducted what we would now call market research, gaining insights into the needs and wants of African American women, and then developed products to meet those specific unmet needs. One popular product was the Wonderful Hair Grower. Over a century later, the MADAM by Madam C.J. Walker brand of hair care products now honors her legacy. 

The lesson here for modern businesses is clear: inclusive market research can uncover significant opportunities. By seeking to understand and cater to diverse consumer groups, businesses can tap into markets that may have been overlooked or underserved.

In today's increasingly diverse consumer landscape, this principle is more relevant than ever. It reminds us that market research should not only be about understanding broad general market trends but also about recognizing the unique needs and preferences of different consumer groups. We have led numerous market research projects with ethnically diverse audiences. While many findings are consistent with “gen pop,” the nuances are important to uncover, understand, and address. After all, the riches are in the niches. 

As we honor the achievements of African American trailblazers like Madam C.J. Walker, let's also be inspired to strive for inclusive market research that recognizes the value and potential of every consumer.


Driven to Succeed is an award-winning global market research and consulting firm that compliments data (the “what”) with empathetic research and conversations (the “why”) to uncover actionable insights so mid-market companies and Fortune 500 brands can innovate and grow. Our team has walked a mile in your shoes with over 100 years of experience in Market Research, Marketing, and P&L Management for global iconic brands and startup companies across diverse B2B and B2C industries. Learn more at

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