Three decades of marketing research.
What are the advantages of qualitative research?

Numbers are powerful tools. During the description and prediction phases of market research, statistics can tell us a great deal about the effectiveness of a company’s operations and strategies. Quantitative research, however, rarely allows the same degree of exploration that qualitative does—especially in the initial stages of a study. In effect, qualitative research allows a company to talk face to face with consumers. This is where you will uncover candid perceptions, attitudes and behaviors regarding your company’s products, services, packaging or image in the market. Qualitative research is best used as a means of generating ideas, of brainstorming solutions and of developing hypotheses that the company may eventually decide to test statistically.

When should I consider using online focus groups? And, when are they not my best choice?

Online focus groups are recommended for several types of research projects including creative testing, new software development, web site evaluations, and business-to-business research. When participants are geographically distant, online focus groups are a convenient and cost-effective way to bring them together. If your target population is already online and technologically savvy, online focus groups are a good choice. However, if they do not have online access or are not familiar with this technology, you may want to select another research method. If you want to test print ads, logos, copy, or even video and audio clips before they are released, an online focus group can be a cost-effective research option. When you need to observe the participants physically interacting with one another or with a product, a traditional, in-person focus group may be a better choice. When the target market is geographically concentrated in a metropolitan area, the in-person focus group is a more effective tool.

How can I justify research costs in an already tight budget?

In many cases, a tight budget actually warrants research. Those factors that cause a business to tighten its belt are often the same factors that the company should explore in its research. When deciding whether to invest in research, remember:

  • What you don’t know can hurt
  • Chances are good that your competitors are not guessing
  • Decisions based on information rather than hunches tend to be more sound
  • It is strategically advantageous to know your “Achilles heel”
  • An offensive tact is usually best.
How long does it take to begin and complete a research project?

Of course, it all depends, but here are some time estimates based on the type of research that is done.

  • Quantitative, single methodology: 35 days
  • Quantitative, multi methodology: 6 to 8 weeks
  • Qualitative focus groups: 2 to 6 weeks
  • If you have a good working relationship with your research firm, you can probably shorten turnaround times.
How frequently should I conduct research?

This is a common question. There may be specific circumstances that warrant more or less frequent research, but here are our recommendations for common research projects:

Image positioning 18 – 30 months
Needs assessment 30 – 42 months
Customer / patient satisfaction bimonthly / quarterly
Consumer groups 2 – 6 months
Employer / industry 6 – 12 months
Employee / internal 12 – 18 months
Service line development 6 months to 2 years (or more)

How much input will I have in the research process?

Ideally, you and your research firm work as partners. Quality research that fully addresses your information demands and concerns simply cannot be accomplished otherwise. You should see a full service firm – one that does more than merely conduct an introductory consultation to determine what issues to explore int he research. A full service research firm incorporates your input and feedback at every stage of the process, from research design to data collection and analysis to the final report and presentation of results. Further, you have certain responsibilities that are essential to the research process, including providing the research firm with contacts from whom data is sought, disseminating data to the research firm that may be useful in design and analysis, and forwarding approval of survey documents in a timely fashion.

How should I use research to drive strategic planning?

How effective and successful can your strategic plan be without definitive, accurate information? Furthermore, how accurate and definitive can the information used in your strategic planning be unless you ask the right questions the right way and analyze the answers to those questions with precision and objectivity? Put simply, research provides the information and data necessary to pinpoint goals worth pursuing and indicates how effective your strategy will be achieving those goals. With that in mind, an investment in market research accomplishes one or more of many goals, including:

  • Understanding why a competitor draws more of the market than you
  • Knowing which of your services are perceived as most important to your customers
  • Knowing customer perceptions when your company develops new products, updates packaging or creates a fresh advertising campaign
  • Improving communications within your organization
What tasks and responsibilities will a professional research firm handle for me?

A full service research firm takes responsibility for:

  • Sample design
  • Survey instrument / discussion guide development
  • Research design
  • Labor and supervision for data collection and professional interviewing
  • Data review and verification
  • Statistical program development, analysis and interpretation of collected data
  • Documentation of research results
  • Formal presentation of research findings
  • Reasonable printing, postage and shipping costs associated with the research project
  • Guaranteeing project security, confidentiality and accuracy
I hear a lot about telemarketing. Is this the same as marketing research?

Telemarketing is a form of advertising. This tool is used to make potential consumers aware of a company’s product or service and to educate consumers as to how they might obtain that product or service. Beyond the fact that we sometimes conduct market research by telephone, there is no other similarity to telemarketing. Rather than disseminating information to consumers, market research is used to collect data from consumers. Although a research firm may act on behalf of a particular business, it never acts to further any agenda beyond the collection and interpretations of information to be used in business strategy.

What do I receive after the research is complete?

Once research is complete, you should receive a formal report of the key findings. This report should contain an executive summary and a detailed description of what was found. The report should also include easy-to-understand graphs of the statistics. Your research firm will typically provide a formal presentation of the information via an interactive audio-visual presentation. Many firms will provide an interpretation of the findings and suggestions for action, but be sure to find out up front if this is included in the price that you are quoted.

I have never had to use research data. How can I be sure that I will understand it?

Collecting the data and crunching the numbers is only one part of a market researcher’s job. Perhaps the most crucial component of market research is a comprehensive and coherent report of the findings. A statistically stringent and thorough report is absolutely useless unless you fully understand the findings. Therefore, you should be sure that your research firm’s report includes explanations of finding in clear and concise terms rather than statistical jargon or tables and graphs exclusively. In short, good research shows just what the numbers mean to you.

I am considering conducting market research, but I'm concerned that survey results will reflect negatively on my performance. How should I approach this?

The ability to use survey results in advertising or to use surveys to verify what you think is good about your company is incidental to the real purpose of the tool. Some argue that these are actually misuses. Survey research is a diagnostic tool and often provides impetus for effective change – even when things are indeed going well. Objective research rarely elicits 100% positive, glowing testimony no matter how good a job an individual, a department or a company is doing. Assuming that a company does not intend to use survey results for validation purposes only, positive and negative feedback are welcomed by those who wan to make truly informed business decisions.

Research statistics can be manipulated to reflect whatever results are desired. How can I be sure that my results are accurate and objectively represent the truth?

It is, of course, possible to introduce bias and to manipulate data at every level of quantitative research – from the wording of questions on a survey instrument to statistical analysis and interpretation. Even the way in which a simple bar chart is depicted can distort results! As a client, there are a few simple ways to ensure that results are objective.

  • Choose a research firm with experience and proven integrity. The research firm’s philosophy and record regarding ethical recruitment of participants, confidentiality and objective analysis should be obvious even from the initial consultation.
  • Participate as an active partner with your chosen research firm and stay involved with the process.
  • Be an educated consumer of research. Common sense, education and ethics can go a long way toward evaluating information critically—whether that information reaches you as a report from a market research firm or simply from your local news.


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