Research in the marketing realm is not like scientists studying bacteria in a petri dish, or a psychology student taking note of strangers’ behaviors in public. Actually, research for marketing purposes is like both.
If we market to a certain audience in a certain way, will they respond and become a customer? Will engaging our constituents through a certain platform increase their loyalty over time? Too often, these kinds of questions are answered with guesses and hunches. And when we make hunch-based decisions, we have no way of knowing whether we’ve maximized the opportunity or missed the mark.
The most successful organizations, however, use focused market research to direct and validate all of their campaigns and communications.
You may go to a marketing agency looking for help with your marketing. But, there are a few steps that will help ensure your marketing efforts are most effective.
The Research Process
You know the importance of listening and doing your research, but where do you start? Magneti starts by determining whether your questions need qualitative insight, quantitative insight, or both.
In qualitative research, we seek to uncover deeper thoughts, perceptions, feelings, inclinations and needs that we may not yet suspect. What are the real perceptions that we haven’t hypothesized yet because we are not the customer?
The quantitative approach, alternatively, is all about measuring these perceptions — can we quantifiably understand how universal certain perceptions and priorities are, and how our customers should be segmented accordingly? Often, we want to measure the segmented application of our findings from the qualitative process.
The qualitative research options available are extensive. However, for a number of reasons, we often recommend focus groups and in-depth interviews as a way to discover insights about the customer experience. Focus groups provide more data, interaction, and options for stimulating feedback than we have with in-depth interviews, but sometimes it’s difficult to get all participants in one place at one time, either online or offline. In some cases, the topics are simply awkward or inappropriate for a group setting, or the topics may prompt group-think bias. Also, some projects may need feedback from a large number of customer segments, which can risk making focus groups too cumbersome and expensive. In situations like these, in-depth interviews give us the flexibility we need.
Online and in-person focus groups provide more data and tools for prompting meaningful feedback, while individual in-depth interviews allow for a more private, flexible, and scalable project, depending on the audience and the questions being asked. In some cases, a mix of these methods may be best.
A focus group can be a gathering of 3-16 current customers. These groups can either be held online or in person, depending on whether we have access to current customers or a geographically clustered target.
As neutral, third-party researchers, it is our job to help you understand the felt and unfelt needs of your customers and prospect customers. By using careful research design, including discussion order, stimulus and exercises, and directed interaction, we capture stories and emotions as part of a multi-layered data set. The mix of stories, verbalized opinions, and verbal and non-verbal emotional data allows us to build rich, eye-opening reports. Conducting and reporting on focus groups requires training and experience, and the insights that are accessed are often astonishing. In a research setting, customers are free to reveal truths they would never say to an organization’s face.
In-depth interviews are hour long, one-on-one conversations with the same customer groups we would invite to focus groups. We find it helpful to think of them as one-person focus groups. When the topic is sensitive or the audience is especially cautious, this individualized setting can reduce barriers to sharing honestly.
When a target group of participants are busy and hard to schedule, this method also allows maximum flexibility for accommodating challenging customer schedules. Finally, we can sometimes build a less expensive project using in-depth interviews simply because we can include multiple audience segments without the cost of including entire focus groups of participants to represent each segment. In qualitative research, the project cost is affected most by the overall number of participants.
Quantitative research is distinct but often complementary with qualitative research. At its most powerful, quantitative research is built on true behavioral data captured on current or target constituents. Ideally, we can use quantitative research as a way to measure the size of the opinions and insights we discovered through qualitative exploration.
We’re asking new questions, breaking new ground, measuring brand new insights into the thoughts and motivations behind why customers take certain actions. We develop a survey, assessment, or tracking questionnaire for current or target customers to measure how true these new insights are.
Survey design is not as simple as asking a question. For this process, we have to understand how respondents will hear the questions. Will they be offended by this word? Will they feel compelled to be polite if we ask it that way? Will they answer a direct question on this topic honestly, or do we need to ask several “safer” questions that will reveal the truth when we splice that data together?
Whenever possible, we use survey question language and structure that has been validated already. For example, the Net Promoter Score (NPS) and American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) question sets have been widely studied and linked to customer behavior over time. By utilizing similar questions, we increase our confidence from the start that our survey data will help us make better conclusions and predictions.
At times, a quantitative survey may be sufficient for getting the answers you need. If the relevant perceptions are already well understood, it may be possible to begin with a quantitative measurement. However, if you are looking for a competitive breakthrough, you are unlikely to find it with quantitative research alone. And if you feel like certain customer groups are black boxes of mystery, you certainly won’t open those boxes without the more investigative benefits of qualitative research.
The findings from the research process are truly eye-opening. The next step for reaching your goals is to take your fresh research insights and apply them to your brand.
“The best marketing is going to be a three-legged stool.”
The first leg is the knowledge, experience and in-depth insight that the client has about their own business and industry. The second leg is the industry knowledge and best practices that we, as the marketing agency, bring to the table. The third leg is the true perspective of the customer, understood through purposeful research. If any leg is missing…the stool will topple over. The third leg, research, is vital to your overall marketing success. Until you include research, you will likely have no idea what opportunity you’re missing.
If you are ready to learn more about your customers’ true wants and needs, we can help! The insights that stem from the research process can change your business for the better. Let’s get started!