We've heard it before: "Let's put together a focus group" or "What do the numbers tell us?" In these cases, our colleagues are often looking for primary research to tell them unequivocally what to do next. But while research can be a wonderful tool, we need to remember that it alone doesn't give answers; it provides guidance.
Articles on research dos and don'ts tend to focus on tactical issues, such as samples (where researchers may have just spoken to children without including the grandmothers who buy) or questionnaire structure (where the crucial factor in people's decision-making wasn't identified). Rarely addressed is whether people are undertaking research for the right reasons and with the optimal methodology.
Successful research begins with a clear set of objectives that can help select the most appropriate research methods. For example, if one is looking to explore the opportunity for a new product, qualitative methods might be right, whereas, if you're looking to measure awareness of your brand, a survey or other quantitative tool is the best approach.
Even if you start out with clear objectives, there are other pitfalls that can derail well-intentioned research.
>> Picking the wrong fight: Often qualitative and quantitative are pitted against each other as rival methods, when in reality they are both essential and complementary. Taking either approach alone poses risks that should be carefully evaluated before choosing an either/or route. Ideally, most research would benefit from both: Do some qualitative research to get a sense of what customers are looking for and then size or prioritize it through a quantitative study. Unfortunately, time and budget constraints often preclude this. If so, matching the right methodology to the objectives is often more important than deciding on data.
>> Focus group monomania: In many companies, focus groups have become synonymous with qualitative research. While they're suited to meet many objectives, focus groups also have distinct disadvantages - professional "focus groupers" who have dominant personalities or submissive ones. Either can lead to misleading results. A more complete portfolio of qualitative research methodologies should be considered when gathering marketplace feedback.
In-depth one-on-one interviews are often overlooked. Some moderators might lack the skills to elicit a structure from free-form exploratory interviews. When conducted correctly, one-on-ones can yield rich insights into consumer motivations and behaviors.
>> Loving the numbers too much: The pursuit of cold, hard facts has led many marketers to pursue the ultimate marketing ROI tracker and predicter. There are now many quantitative methodologies that claim to provide the ultimate in brand valuation and quantification, but there's no standard approach.
>> Misrepresenting results: Even if a research program is executed perfectly, the work can be jeopardized at the very end. Often executives misrepresent research findings, picking and choosing numbers and charts that best suit the point they are trying to make, irrespective of clarity, consistency, and the potential for tracking future discrepancies. But by properly combining research findings, savvy insights, and gut instinct, marketers can learn how to better direct brand activities.