Market Research can be a valuable tool for a business of any size; to define your target consumer base, discover areas for product/service improvement, or simply provide a deeper understanding of your industry in general. Research efforts must be organized, calculated, and focused in order to yield useful results, maximize resource efficiency, and maintain a positive brand image. In our multiple-part series “Successful Surveys: Ask the Right Questions”, we will cover several key areas in which a research project can stray off track. Through this continued dialogue, we will highlight how to ensure your final results and provide accurate answers to your initial research question(s).
Before initiating any Market Research effort, an organization must first ask a series of questions within and of itself. This will help clarify research objectives, create a plan of action, and clearly communicate said plan to all relevant stakeholders.
Here are 5 key questions to consider:
1. How will the results be used?
Before generating a list of potential survey questions, step back to first determine exactly how the results will be applied within your company. Is the research project intended to help your marketing department better understand and/or communicate with your target customers? Is this the initial phase of a larger product improvement initiative, through which the customer’s wants and needs will be defined or re-defined? Definitively answering these questions will provide a framework for the ensuing research project. Maintaining a focus on the ultimate goal throughout the entire process will help ensure future efforts are aligned with the initial vision.
2. What specifically do you want to know?
There are endless possibilities at this stage. This can present a blank canvas which could create a masterpiece or a mess. It is vital to establish clearly stated research objectives as it could be helpful for referencing the first aspect of the process, how the results will be used, and allow input or recommendations from the appropriate departments within the company. If the research is intended to assist your marketing department in better tracking your customers, request that they outline specific data that would be helpful. If the focus is product development, decide upon specific product areas that are most important (e.g. product design, product packaging, etc). Narrowing the scope of research question categories will further define the framework and avoid getting tangled in the web of tangents.
3. Do you have an open communication channel with the target?
First, determine the ideal target audience for your research study. Are you interested in previous customers or potential new customers? From there, review any internal database or filing system to uncover currently held contact information. This can be something as simple as an email list acquired through purchase billing information. Regardless of the approach, a research study will be short lived without defining your line of communication. Outlining this process will allow for open discussion regarding the viability of different research platforms (e.g. direct mail vs. online), which can be addressed at a later time.
4. Are there time constraints associated with the research project?
If your research is directly associated with a specific event or launch date, establishing a strict timeline that will help keep the project on track. Balancing the time allotted for research is instrumental for the development of data collection and analysis thus allowing necessary efforts in both areas. Shortcuts seldom produce positive results, so setting a realistic timeline will help establish how broad or narrow the research project scope should be.
5. Is there sufficient budget allocated to complete the project?
After establishing a timeline, you should be able to project associated costs. Run through each phase of the research project from conceptualization to the final deliver-ables. Determine which facets can be completed in-house and which will require outside assistance. For example, a direct mail research study will require printing and postage whereas an online research study will require an interactive online instrument and a secured database. Does your company have the capabilities to perform either or both of these tasks? As with project timing and scheduling, a realistic view of the budgetary allowance will assist with decision making in regards to what is, or is not, feasible. Again, shortcuts are not recommended and skipping steps due to lack of funds can compromise the validity of the entire research project.
Next Step: Getting started
Now that you have determined how the research results will be implemented internally, clearly defined your research objectives, established a clear communication channel with the desired target group, created a timeline of deliverables, and set the project budget, you are ready to continue moving forward with confidence.
Look out for more information on the next steps in the coming weeks as I continue this ongoing series “Successful Surveys: Ask the Right Questions.”