What’s the business problem?
The desire to do research usually starts with some sort of business problem that requires evidence to support a decision to go one way or another.
Although these problems are many and varied some common ones include:
- Will our latest product innovation sell – does it have enough appeal to launch and who will buy it?
- What should our next advertising campaign say to strike a chord with new and existing customers?
- Why is our category slowing – what can we do to grow it again?
- Why are we losing brand share when other brands are growing?
- Where should we reposition our brand?
- How do we deliver a product or service that hits the mark in terms of what customers want?
- Which of these three ad concepts is the best one to go with?
- Where are the new opportunities in our category?
- What is the health of our brand compared to our competitors?
- How do we create a better value proposition?
You will know the problem because you are already thinking about research – but spend a few minutes defining what that problem is as clearly and simply as you can. It will help to set up your research and define your objectives. It will also help you sell the idea of doing research (which always requires some budget) with other stakeholders.
What decisions will you make at the end of the research?
A really neat way to start thinking about setting up some objectives is to start thinking about the decisions you will make at the end of the research? After all, research is all about evidence-based decision making, and if you can’t define or articulate the decisions you will make then you are not ready for research.
Spend some time writing these down as part of your overall research plan. Couch them in terms of a decision, and be specific. It’s better to have a set of smaller decisions than a big hairy one that is vague.
Let’s consider one of the business problem scenarios above. A favourite, one of mine is advertising testing and optimisation. Imagine your agency has pitched three new ideas to you for an upcoming TV ad. The agency has their favourite, you have yours, and they are not the same which are different. The types of decisions you are typically faced with in this scenario are:
- Which of these TV commercial (TVC) ideas should we approve for production?
- Which one is going to connect and resonate with customers the best in order to increase propensity to buy our product?
- Which one does the best job of delivering its intended message?
- Which one does the best job of linking to our brand, and which one fits our brand the best?
- What, if anything, should we change in the best ad to make it even better?
- Which is most memorable and has the least wear-out factor?
You list of decisions could be less or more but you should try to capture all the decisions you might need to make at this stage and write them down. Review, refine and organise your decisions into a succinct list.
Translate this into an overall objective and supporting objectives
Now that you have made your decisions it’s time to translate them into research objectives. We find that having an overarching objective with a list supporting objectives is a very useful way of defining objectives. The objectives really are the decisions but translated into a language that research can address.
Again, using the example above, you may translate that into something like the following:
The overall objective of the research is to find the best advertising concept to take into production.
In order to meet this objective the following supporting objectives have been developed.
- Which TVC idea is the most likeable by those in the target market?
- Which has the best linkage to our brand?
- Which has the best fit to our brand?
- What messages are being processed spontaneously by viewers of each TVC idea and are these positive, negative or neutral?
- Are these messages consistent with the intended messaging of the TVC idea?
- Which TVC idea has the least wear out over repeated exposures?
- Which TVC idea has the greatest lift in propensity to consider or buy our brand?
Note, this is not intended to be an exhaustive list of what an advertising research project would aim to achieve but gives a practical example of how you might translate decisions into research objectives.
A final word on goals and objectives.
Your research plan, which includes goals and objectives, should be a living document and don’t be afraid to revisit and modify it accordingly. It’s not unusual for business decisions and therefore goals and objectives to change over the course of the process. What’s important is to identify these and update your research plan, preferably before you leave base camp, and start designing your questionnaire. Remember spending more time at base camp really pays off – you wouldn’t attempt to climb a mountain without taking the time to plan your expedition before setting off!
Keep an eye out for the instalment in this blog series which will cover design and structure of your questionnaire!
Although it’s tempting to just get started with your research project, it’s really important to take the time to plan and consider all of the options and possible issues before you start. Think about these types of questions to create a one-page research plan.
Who are you targeting?
Probably the most critical question of all is making sure that you are targeting the right people. This might sound easy but in actual fact it’s quite tricky. It’s important though because if you are talking to the wrong people then your research is likely to yield spurious results. Here are some simple guidelines.
- The target should match the people you want to know about – they could be existing users of a particular product or service, potential users of a new product or service, or simply people in a specific demographic, life-stage, household composition or specific geography.
- Can you easily define the target? – For example, grocery buyers or financial decision makers, or is it more difficult, like people who might suffer a medical condition sometime in the future?
- Is the target common or rare – that is, what is the likely incidence – how many people out of 10 would qualify?
How will you find them and ensure they are representative of the target audience?
There are multiple sources you can recruit respondents from, including the general public, client and prospect lists, but also permission based panels.
If you decide to recruit from the general public then you need to think about how you will find them and get them to participate (incentivise or not). In the past we have used white pages to randomly call homes and ask for the last birthday person to randomise within households. This has become more difficult in recent years because of mobiles for fixed substitution , and the lack of listings of mobiles in telephone directories. You could also do a door to door study but this is very expensive and can be less representative if not done correctly. Probably the easiest and most cost effective way to recruit respondents today is via one of the many well-established permission-based panels which are large databases of consumers who have signed up for research and have been incentivised to do so.
A word on sampling. Once you a have decided on where to get your respondents from, you need to think about how you will sample them. There are basically two types of sampling – probability sampling and convenience sampling.
Although beyond the scope of this blog – probability sampling (also known as random sampling) basically gives every person in a population (or target) the same chance (probability) of being selected and if done correctly can infer the sampled results to the total population within known error rates (thanks to some pretty funky maths). This therefore is the most representative type of sampling and should be used wherever possible. However in practice this has become difficult because, in order to do this, you need to access an entire population (known as a sample frame) to sample from.
Convenience sampling on the other hand uses lists of people or goes directly to the source (e.g. a shopping centre to speak to grocery buyers), – and as the name implies it uses convenience over probability. It is – its therefore less costly but at the same time much less representative. You do need to be pragmatic in research though, and convenience sampling has a place and if you do use it try to add some sort of randomisation – like choosing every ninth person to be in your survey.
What issues do you anticipate?
It’s pretty rare to undertake a research piece without encountering any issues along the way. Anticipating issues and problems though can really pay off and help make your project run more smoothly. Issues can come from different camps, so have a think about the types of issues that might happen before you start. To help you, here are some of the more common research issues we encounter.
- The lists aren’t accurate and we can’t get the numbers we want - you need to have a back-up plan to find respondents.
- People aren’t responding to our survey – you might need to introduce an incentive or a better incentive.
- The incidence is really low – we thought 1 in 10 people would qualify but only 1 in 20 qualify - either broaden your target, budget or consider a convenience sample to get to them.
- People aren’t grasping what we are talking about – respondents are misunderstanding the idea – you need to pilot your survey first to ensure this doesn’t happen in the field.
- People are starting our survey and not finishing it. – The survey is too long or not engaging enough, or not incentivised enough for the task.
How long will the survey take?
Generally speaking, a survey should be as short as it can be to achieve the objectives. Surveys typically fall into the 10 to -15 minute mark but can be shorter at 5 to 10 minutes, or longer up to 20 or even 25 minutes. As a rule of thumb, the longer the survey, the more engaging and better the incentive will need to be to ensure good participation. A longer survey also means more resources at your end to process and analyse, so you’ll need a bigger budget or resource allocation to get the job done. If you are using a third party like a permission-based panel to recruit respondents then you will pay more per completed survey, so again, think about the budget up front before committing to longer surveys.
Also Keep in mind that people respond to surveys differently and although we would prefer all of our respondents to take a considered approach to our surveys, in reality some go slow and some go fast – so you need to think about what’s a reasonable amount of time you expect people to give to the task.
We’ll talk about this more in future blogs but in closing, please, please, please take the time at base camp to think and prepare before jumping in and writing your survey!
Keep an eye out for our next blog which will cover setting goals and objectives!
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