Does research reveal anything useful?
Research is ubiquitous. We see continual polls plastered on the news. We rate how outrageous/scary/sexy photos are on Huffington Post. Even Twitter has turned into research in real time as we take in major events on TV and rank their “tweets per second.”
They all give us an MRI on the mindset of the moment. And a moment later, they’ve vanished like a black cat down a dark alley.
I call this “gut” research—people making a snap judgment about something, and throwing their two cents into society’s online coin jar. It’s fun, makes you feel part of something bigger, and gives everyone instant insight.
To me, there is some advantage to gut research. People aren’t overthinking an issue or opinion, because they’re participating in real time, like a game. The trouble is that it’s fleeting, by nature. It would be near impossible to build any sort of long-term strategic home on the fickle mudslide of public opinion.
Then, there are the traditional, fraternal twins of qualitative and quantitative research. Here’s a quick breakdown of each:
Quantitative: The numbers game
• This usually consists of phone interviews, surveys (both online and traditional), questionnaires and the like.
• The researcher knows very clearly what sort of information he/she is looking to gather, so it’s planned in advance.
• The aim is to classify, count and construct statistical models… the results are usually delivered in the form of numbers or percentages, and tend to be more objective.
• Quantitative is generally recommended during the latter stages of research.
Qualitative: All touchy-feely
• This research rears its head in the form of focus groups, one-on-one interviews, observations and conversations.
• The researcher may not be precisely clear of what he/she is trying to find out. Qualitative is more exploratory in nature.
• The goal is to get a complete, detailed description of something. Results are generally more subjective, and presented in words, pictures or stories.
• Qualitative often makes its appearance during earlier stages of research.
As you can probably guess…
Quantitative is usually a hit with numbers people, like board members and the CFO. Qualitative speaks to marketing/communications folks and 30,000-mile-high-perspective CEOs.
The traditional types of research have their issues, too, though. Formal types of research, in formal settings, can prompt people to manufacture answers. You may get in the ballpark of truth—or maybe no closer than the surrounding suburbs.
Why? Most people aren’t that self-aware. They don’t know why they like or don’t like something. And if they have an inkling, it’s often hard for them to articulate it clearly. So, when faced with a moderator or someone with a clipboard, they suddenly become highly and awkwardly self aware—and say what they think you want to hear, or what will make them sound smart to you or others in the room.
In focus groups, it’s easy for this to get out of hand, quickly. All you need is one loudmouthy personality to steer a group’s opinions. The best focus groups prompt conversations, getting people to talk about themselves and what they like about a product or service, and having them free-associate words or feelings about a topic.
When it comes to research, here are three things we tell our clients…
1. Budget for it—especially if you’re reinventing your brand, a product or a service line. You’d be surprised how many marketing execs don’t put money aside for research. (If that’s you, we’ll let it go, this time.)
2. You don’t need to do research all the time, but you do need to do it. Many marketers like to take yearly surveys to check the pulse of customers, the community or other segments. Others do more substantial research every two to three years. And as we spoke of a little earlier, social media is an excellent barometer of what people are thinking right now. Whatever works with your budget and staff is fine… just try to do research at some sort of regular intervals.
3. Hire a pro. It’s great to make your own observations and talk directly to customers or staff. But you should contract with someone who does this for a living. Seriously. They can help you determine what type of research makes sense for you, help you formulate questions, and more. It makes a world of difference… and if you find someone good, hold onto them.
Research can and does yield tons of useful info. In my marketing travels, I haven’t met a marketer yet who wasn’t surprised by something revealed in research. Try it. You may be amazed by what you uncover.
– Andy Badalamenti is the creative director for CI-Group.