The other day I took a call from a potential client. “We need help with a research project,” he said. “Great!” I replied. “Let me ask you a few questions to get a feel for what you need.”
The ensuing conversation made it clear that he and his team needed to give a lot more thought to defining their needs before a research project could be developed. This, in turn, made me realize that what many companies really need is a handy checklist of questions to address before they begin any research project.
My next few blog posts will be devoted to discussing each question on this list in more detail. We’ll start with the questions that help define exactly what it is that you’re trying to accomplish with your research project.
How does this research project fit into your company’s overall goals and objectives? How will the research results be used?
When planning a research project, a good place to start is with the big picture view. What are your company’s overall goals and objectives, and how will this research be used to help you achieve them? For example:
- You want to expand into new markets, and the research will be used for product development purposes.
- You want to increase your sales, and the research will inform your marketing strategies.
- You want to attract investors, and the research will be used to help demonstrate your business’ potential.
- You are working on your long-range plans, and the research will be used for strategy purposes.
- You are redesigning your product, and you need a usability survey to determine what product features are important to your customers.
Knowing how the end results will be used – and ensuring that this purpose actually supports your overall goals and objectives – will play a big role in shaping the research itself. But not answering these questions up front can result in a research project that does not meet your needs.
What knowledge are you hoping to gain?
I often find that there’s a disconnect between how clients initially describe their needs and what they really hope to achieve. Let me give you a recent example to illustrate what I mean.
A company that makes a live streaming video app for smartphones told us that they needed to figure out exactly who their users were. They suspected that their customers were college students who were into music, but they wanted us to do a panel survey to prove this.
After going round and round for months we found out that the company was trying to attract investors, and their goal was to be able to tell investors what the market potential was. This new information took us back to the drawing board, because it completely changed the research design.
A little later we found out that one of the company’s major goals was to create a marketing campaign centered on celebrity endorsements. They hoped the research would show that their target audience (college students who like music??) would buy their app if celebrities who were popular with this audience endorsed it.
With this new piece of information we went from “who is using this app?” to “how big is the market?” to “would you use this app if you knew Beyoncé used it?” And it became clear that what this company really wanted was a research study that answered all of these questions, so that they could use the data in multiple ways. Needless to say, it would have been nice to know this up front.
What are your current pain points?
Perhaps you are having a hard time attracting investors. Maybe you don’t know who your clients are, or how to start your branding. To be most useful, your research project needs to help address one or more of your pain points.
One of the companies we work with puts on educational workshops. When we first started talking about their research needs, they stated that they needed a customer satisfaction survey to find out what people think of their sessions. But when we drilled down into their pain points we learned that attendance is down, and those who do attend were waiting until the last minute to register. So in addition to finding out whether or not attendees were satisfied with these workshops, they also needed to gain some insight into what was causing the drop in attendance, and what they could do to motivate people to register sooner.
What will a successful research project look like to you?
Finally, to gain clarity around what exactly you’re trying to accomplish with your research project, it’s helpful to define what it is that would make the project a success for you.
For example, how big of a group do you want to survey? How many responses will you need? Within what time frame do you need the survey results? What questions do you want to have answered? Quite often companies know what information they are hoping to validate (“our customers are college students who like music”) or the results they’re hoping to obtain (“college students who like music will buy this app if Beyoncé endorses it”).
Knowing all of this up front will help the research designers to ask the right questions, and to guard against asking biased and/or leading questions that are designed specifically to elicit the desired response.
Stay tuned for my next blog, where we’ll take a look at issues relating to people who will be involved with your research project. In the meantime, be sure to contact us for your copy of “11 Questions to Answer Before You Begin a Research Project.”