The problem is that Consumer Insights is responsible for gathering marketplace information, but they typically don’t own the business problem, which is the responsibility of other functions, such as Sales, Marketing, or Customer Service.
Think about this for a minute. Consumer Insights is asked to provide information to solve a business issue or problem, but the issue or problem is owned somewhere else. Too often, we see companies miss opportunities to improve their research, because the functions designing and executing the research do not have a complete picture of all the business issues.
What does it take to develop good marketing research?
Good marketing research answers business questions, and it can only be developed if certain research questions are asked and answered before the research is undertaken, such as these:
- Why do we need to gather information?
- What type of information do we need?
- What will be done with the information? Who will use it?
- What are the best ways to communicate the results? How do our clients learn?
When these types of questions are not addressed up front, it may be the case that the owners of the business issues don’t put in enough effort to explain, or it may be that Consumer Insights doesn’t put in enough effort to understand.
When this happens, clients may find that their research project has provided data but no real insight. They may also feel that there are lots of data and tons of charts, but little that is actionable.
What is it about the research process that causes this to happen? When these types of questions are not asked up front, a variety of things can go wrong while executing the research:
- The research project may not involve all the necessary departments in planning.
- Sources of existing information – such as customer complaints or salesforce anecdotes – may not be reflected in the research.
- Discussion guides and surveys may exclude key questions and focus too much on “landscaping” – questions that describe the market landscape but don’t ask why the information matters.
- The research may proceed too quickly into quantitative, or too slowly.
- The reporting for the research may not be consistent with how clients learn.
- The presentation of the material may focus on the research process rather than the business problems.
There are a variety of ways to make this process work better. Here is a disguised example from an MMR Strategy Usage & Attitude (U&A) study.
How to Plan a Better Usage & Attitude Study
One very savvy client of ours sells advertising and promotions for consumers through a business to business sales force. The head of research told us that her internal clients wanted a Usage & Attitude study to help them understand the usage of their services, measure consumer frequency and usage habits, and better meet competitive threats.
Through conversations with senior management, the research staff and MMR Strategy began to understand that despite all these important objectives, the most important goal was to provide the sales force with specific tools they could use in selling new clients.
Before the study was designed, senior management, sales management, the field sales force, and the research staff worked together to build hypotheses about:
- strengths and weaknesses of their services,
- consumer likes and dislikes about their services and competitive offerings, and
- selling points for their products and their brand.
Before undertaking any quantitative research, we tested these hypotheses in focus groups with specific types of customers. From this process, we defined specific objectives for a survey questionnaire. The pre-work made it easy to develop questions that could generate useful information for the sales force.
Thanks to the cross functional involvement and excellent pre-planning, the results provided powerful information that the sales force could use to sell their services.
How can you improve your next marketing research project?
The next time you design a Usage & Attitude (U&A) study, or a tracking study, consider making a greater investment in upfront planning. Imagine how much better your study will be when your research team works more closely with functions such as product development, advertising, or sales to clarify how the organization will use the data, and what information is worth collecting.
Up-front planning can improve your next study in three ways:
- Focus Your Research on Key Issues: Spend time to understand where to focus to research. Identify the kind of information that would be most useful to improve a product, track an ad compaign, launch a new concept, segment a market or strengthen your sales efforts.
- Involve Other Functions: Involve other functions who can help shed light on the business issues that are inherent in any research project. This may include functions such as marketing, sales and management. Their involvement should be more than superficial, because each function should be treated as both a client and a thought partner.
- Consider Qual Before Quant: The up front process should allow you to set priorities across hypotheses to test in the research. Often, the up front planning results in a realization that survey research should be preceded by formal or informal qualitative research, which can help identify hypotheses to test in the research. Qual can be formal, such as focus groups, or informal, such as conversations with customers.
In our experience, a bit of extra investment in planning will pay off with much more powerful and actionable results.
MMR Strategy Group