Market Research: Planning, And a Little Math, Go a Long Way

Actions may speak louder than words, but numbers speak louder than actions--at least where getting C-suite buy-in is concerned. Hence the importance of measurement, metrics, accountability, quantifiable outcomes, analysis. No matter your preferred label, as a communications professional, you have surely been faced with the challenges (and opportunities) presented by the now-necessary fluency in "number speak." And, like many other executives, you may be neglecting market research, which forms the foundation of all measurement and which is required to make all subsequent efforts valid and high-impact. "Sadly, market research often doesn't fit at all into measurement and analysis efforts as far as communications professionals are concerned," says Mike Daniels, managing director, Report International. "Communications management tends to undertake a very limited range of research: research specifically to create headline stories; journalist audits to identify process issues with the pressroom/staff; occasional reputation measurement studies amongst key stakeholders; and, for internal communications, employee surveys." Market research is extremely organization-specific, as it is an umbrella term that encompasses both qualitative and quantitative research, as well as specifics like those cited by Daniels. But, while specific approaches may differ, the overall application of research to organizational objectives can be generalized. Thus, given the statement that many organizations' market research efforts run the risk of being shortsighted, here are some strategies to consider, along with the tactics needed to implement them. *Clearly identify desired numbers: "Best practices can only be identified in relation to the specific type of research you want to conduct," Daniels says. "Customer satisfaction is different from brand tracking is different from reputation measurement." Trying to research the whole enchilada won't give you a bird's eye view of the audience; it'll just give you heartburn. *Count online opportunities: If you aren't already a market research believer (or at least practitioner), there are enough service providers out there that will try to convert you. Recently, StrategyEye got some prime real estate on with coverage of its Web search service and in-house analysis combo. Billed as a "London-based startup hoping to do for market research what Google did for the search engine," its dashboard-style approach is in step with other measurement-related developments. However, more interesting than the existence of StrategyEye is the hat it tips to digital communications channels--those that are influencing the very nature of market research and analysis. "The basic needs answered by consumer research haven't changed just because of the rise of new digital media," Daniels says. "Their impact is felt much more in the way research is conducted more and more. The rapidly growing use of online survey tools has changed both the speed of research to almost real-time results, and it has widened the initiators of research to include non-research professionals who can now easily create their own research studies." *Love your market research department: Daniels' comment is a natural segue to the benefits of developing partnerships with executives in the market research department (when applicable). For example, according to Chris Frank, senior director of market research and insights for Microsoft, "We have two clients. One is our PR team, and one is the partnerships with our agencies." In Microsoft's case, this sturdy relationship with internal market researchers gave the PR team the support and data it needed to push measurement efforts forward and impact business outcomes accordingly. (For more on Microsoft's measurement efforts, see "The Power of 1: Does Measurement's Future Hinge on a Single Metric?" PRN, 10-08-07.) *Up the ante by studying statistics: OK, few people count statistics among their list of favorite things in life, but it is becoming more and more integral to measurement and, as a result, market research. For example, cluster factor analyses are the latest and greatest iteration of focus groups--a key element of many market research approaches. Cluster factor analysis is a statistical technique that applies to data sets that have natural similarities--in other words, those that form clusters based on inherent likenesses. These data clusters can be mapped on a graph with X and Y axes for a visual representation, and the results can be useful in a number of areas, including market segmentation, product positioning and development, and test market targets. According to Terry Heymeyer, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and senior counsel at Pierpont Communications, cluster factor analyses allow you to segment audiences based on very specific characteristics before ever disseminating messaging. With this highly targeted approach, communicators have the advantage of bringing numerical evidence to management as validation for the resources needed to launch any initiative. *Did we mention digital? Yeah, we did, but it has to be said again. According to Tom Arrix, VP, Media Sales East, Facebook, "Now there are environments in the social media space that provide data [on consumers] in realtime based on real insights." Arrix made this statement during a panel discussion that was part of the 2008 CMO Leadership Forum, held in New York City on January 17. While the forum's focus was naturally on marketing, the integration of all communications disciplines--especially in the context of research, measurement and accountability--was front and center. Everyone present espoused the importance of social media in all research efforts, as these channels essentially provide communicators with access to real-time focus groups. The main takeaway was simply to stop fearing digital, no matter what part of the communications strategy it applies to, because it's not going anywhere. In the words of one panelist: "Today is the first day of the rest of your digital life." PRN CONTACT: Mike Daniels,; Terry Heymeyer, Best Practices in Market Research According to Mike Daniels, managing director of Report International, communications professionals should consider these general best practices when embarking on a market research initiative: 1. Ensure the questions answered are directly relevant to your needs--don't overburden a questionnaire with irrelevant questions, which will just serve to alienate the respondent. 2. Make sure the routing of the questions ("if yes, then" and "if no, then" choices) are consistent and lead to meaningful answers. 3. Choose your measurement frames carefully. A three-point favorability scale will force different responses than a four-point favorability scale. 4. Make allowances for respondents' indecision about their answers, but try to avoid "don't know" responses. 5. If the research is international in scope, double- and triple-check the translations to ensure consistency. 6. Always be aware of consumer opt-in/opt-out privacy regulations. 7. Remember to list contact information, and have a person available to handle respondent queries. 8. Don't confuse market research with direct marketing.

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