In marketing research, we are frequently faced with getting answers faster and for less investment. In the current business climate, we have become all too familiar with the term “Doing more with less.” Along those lines, buyers of marketing research frequently face situations where there are fewer human resources available or less budget, yet the demands of stakeholders remain unchanged. When confronting such resource-restricted situations, one becomes tempted to rely on silver-bullet solutions in order to meet objectives. However, in life, there are rarely quick fixes or magic bullets that adequately serve our needs completely. So what does one do to ensure that we are delivering on objectives in spite of a limited pool of resources?
Whether participating in sports or solving business issues, we often recognize success by returning to the basics. Although getting back to basics sounds obvious, it is often overlooked. When a baseball player experiences a hitting slump, what does the athlete do? He works with a hitting coach to determine if his fundamentals are correct. In this case, fundamentals include reviewing the batting stance, adjusting the swing plane, diagnosing the mental approach towards varying types of pitches or even something as simple as how one grips the bat. Coincidentally, the business financial markets are no different with respect to fundamentals. We frequently read that the financial markets need to turn to fundamentals in order to get back on track or grow. In widely distributed press releases, CEOs of large corporations often mention that their respective companies have solid fundamentals in order to reassure the market that their businesses are sound. Solid fundamentals provide confidence and translate into success.
In marketing research, returning to fundamentals in order to start the process proficiently is critical. It is impossible to fix a project when objectives have either not been defined or have been misunderstood. Instead of rushing to find answers, we should not lose sight of basics such as what it is that we want to learn. The “how we go about it” conversation ought to follow the “what is it we want to discover” conversation. Simply obtaining information does not serve stakeholders competently. In fact, one might argue that no information would be better. Information is power when the findings are valid and can be applied to decision-making in the real world.
Information for information’s sake is meaningless. It is very easy in today’s digital world to go online and find information. Digital is built for speed. More than ever before, there are many resources from which to garner information. However, the old adage “garbage in/garbage out” has never been more valid. More information does not serve our stakeholders; whereas, credible and meaningful information does provide a basis for superior decisions. Applying sound fundamentals by asking stakeholders smart diagnostic questions ties directly back to getting it right the first time. Do-over is costly. Whether we are conducting primary research or leveraging secondary research, conducting qualitative or quantitative research, a “back to the basics” mentality where we accurately define the issues at hand is the first step to assure we are leveraging findings that accurately meet our goals. In some instances, this may translate into combining knowledge from multiple sources of information or designing and fielding a custom marketing research study. To avoid situations where our goals become overly ambitious and not practical, it is often helpful to prioritize as follows:
- Identify the single primary objective
- Determine secondary objectives
- Flesh out areas that are “nice to know”
By taking this approach we can begin to place focus on how to next proceed. If we find ourselves struggling to differentiate primary, secondary and “nice to know,” then we circle back and reengage with stakeholders.
Our challenge is to not be induced by one-size-fits-all solutions that may partly speak to our objectives, but to diagnose the issue thoroughly then leverage our wide range of knowledge in order to get it right. Poor research designs associated with haphazard problem definition eventually will lead to faulty:
- Sampling approach
- Questionnaire development
In short, by missing the boat on objectives we can guarantee an outcome of dire results.
Since marketing research professionals are in the business of asking and analyzing questions, we ought to be adept at asking intelligent questions to stakeholders even before developing survey instruments and discussion guides. Although it might seem elementary to return to basics, even the world-class professional athletes seek tips on fundamentals in order to maintain an edge.
As a supplier of marketing research, MSI feels strongly that clarifying objectives is not the sole responsibility of the buyer/client. Given that collaboration and seamless teamwork are critical in meeting goals, we make a point of drilling down with clients to make sure objectives are clearly delineated. We have found that end users appreciate such rigor, as it provides us all with focus and gets everyone on the same page. Thus, by engaging stakeholders and asking the right questions early on, we are on the right path to starting with a foundation of knowledge from which to build a successful project.