Don’t Live in the Ivory Tower – 5 Important Questions to Ask When Conducting Marketing Research

Statistics, metrics, trends, key drivers, significance….all are wonderful terms that, when rolled up together, usually point towards one thing – Marketing Research.  

While all good companies conduct Marketing Research (some using third party research companies and others attempting it internally), it is always important to remove yourself from the “ivory tower” in order to fully maximize your research plan and objectives.  

Going beyond core questions related to Why? How? Who? and When? is imperative…and sometimes you may need to take a step back to fully see the forest through the trees.

In this article, we highlight 5 Important Questions to ask when conducting marketing research:

1.  Why do you need this information?  What decisions will you make from it?  How does this tie into your company’s strategy?  

The most important question of all – why do you need this information?  By not understanding this and more importantly, tying the research into strategy, the overall research plan will be lost before it is has already begun.  Don’t conduct research to get a number – have a reason and strategy behind it.

Define what you need to obtain from your research and more importantly, what you will do with the research.  Nothing is more painful from a researcher’s perspective than seeing insight from research decks put into folders and then placed on a shelf somewhere.  Research has to be used for future action, and that action needs to tie into your overall strategy.  

Think big picture and don’t get lost in the forest.

Big picture strategy is needed to avoid getting lost in the forest

2.  What do you know already?  What have you done previously and how can you use that information for this research?

Do you have access to internal data or secondary data?  Perhaps you already have some answers or some insight to keep you from going down a path that is unnecessary.  There is no point in re-inventing the wheel and spending valuable resources to “re-discover” something that was already known.  

Taking this concept further, one could even view information as a piece to the bigger research puzzle, using a feedback loop model such as the Bayesian Feedback Loop™.  In this model, you begin with the Discovery process to define what you already know, and then pivot to expand the knowledge.  As such, internal data and previously completed initiatives serve the purpose of defining the baseline.  Sure – over time, behaviors and the marketplace will shift (hence the continual learning process used by the feedback loop), but often there are common truths that will endure.  

Identifying these resources and utilizing them for future research will expand your knowledge and help you make decisions.  Nothing is worse than hearing – “well, we already knew that” when a research project is complete.  

3.  Who are you surveying?  

Are you surveying your customers or the market at large?  Within these groups, could there be differences – young versus old, experienced versus newcomers?  Ask yourself this question during the hypothesis stage as all respondents are not created equal.  Different tiers such as age, income, region and the like can cause “noise” in the data if you aren’t careful.  

For example – first time homebuyers are not equal to those buying their fourth home.  Those that have been around the block think differently than those who are beginning the process.  First time homebuyers may be more price sensitive in searching for a mortgage lender while those who have been around the block may use a broker since they would rather have an easy process than a process with bumps in the road.   

Avoid lumping everyone into one large bucket without thinking out the possibilities of segments.  As seen with political polling – if age, ethnicity and gender are not thought out ahead of time, the results can be skewed and we all know what that means – unreliable data.

Segmenting survey respondents gives much better data than thinking of everyone as the same.

4.  How will you reach your respondents?  Telephone, online, mobile technology, social media, face-to-face intercepts, good old fashioned mail or even a combination (mixed mode).

Years ago, telephone surveys were the mainstay.  Everyone had a home phone and reaching respondents was something that was relatively easy to do.  Now with new regulations on the industry, mobile telephones and the ever-growing on-line panel community, there are numerous of ways to collect data.  The key is knowing which is right for your target audience.

Imagine if you would like insight from customers who recently went to an event, such as a NASCAR race.  Instead of searching for a needle in a haystack and surveying NASCAR hobbyists, there may be other, more innovative ways to collect data from this specific population.  For example, you could use a social media listening approach to target those who said they went to the event, and then collect and analyze their conversations.  You could also use web scraping techniques to identify and collect data on these same consumers and pull out their comments from popular websites.  Further, you could target these people to participate in an online survey for focused data collection.  What about geo-mapping via smart phones?  With technology today, you can actually identify when respondents are at an event. 

5.  Once you have the data and it has been analyzed, what other groups or departments need to be involved with the next steps?  How can others be involved to fully embrace the findings?

While this sounds well and good, be careful – the more groups that are involved, the more complex things can become.  What started out as a simple initiative could then expand with other groups.  Others wanting to “piggy back” questions happen all the time.  Sure, there are times when adding additional questions may make sense, but you must do so carefully.

Consider, would you ask respondents their opinion related to company advertisements when conducting a survey related to an experience with the call center?  Given the audience, those who have had a call center experience, the results related to ad recall will be skewed.  Your target respondents are customers who have had specific interactions with the brand and not the customer base at large.

The key to solving this puzzle is to identify all other internal parties who may benefit from the research initiative and invite them to the party.  This can be a slippery slope though as more parties involved can complicate matters, but if you can identify what the goals are and how this will influence strategy, a generalized synergy within can pay dividends down the road.

With almost 20 years of experience in the marketing research industry, I believe that asking yourself these simple questions at the onset of a project can save you and your company a lot of time and money.  Remember, don’t get stuck in the ivory tower and aim before you fire - not vice versa.