Monday, October 17, 2005

Making the best use of Market Research

In my previous blog I had written about the usefulness & need for market research. Despite the value offered by market research, several firms fail to make the best use of the research. So this blog is all about how to make the best use of market research.

Marketing department in all firms understand the value and usefulness of market research. They spend money (anywhere from $10,000 to $250,000) to hire external agencies to get the research done. But in many cases, the research findings are never fully utilized. The reports and findings just happen to sit on "I will get to it latter" pile and is ignored till its forgotten. While this was not the intent, it happens because:
  • Research studies were more strategic or far-reaching. Results can be viewed from various perspectives, and there is no crystal-clear path to follow.
  • Firms don't have a process in place for getting the most out of their research findings.
  • The research fails to give "silver bullet" answers. Then it is regarded as useless data.
  • The researcher analysis fails to make action-oriented recommendations that everyone likes. (Finding unpleasant information puts off people and they cast the research aside)
  • Once the research has been presented, there is the perception that, months later it is no longer relevant.
  • The research results casts doubt on the status quo within the organization and has a potential to upset the power balance within the organization.
  • There is no research champion, or a person who takes responsibility for making sure the research is used to its fullest.
  • Person who ordered the research fails to take an active role in using research results. Then the research becomes an academic exercise.
  • When recommendations are often viewed as unaffordable.

Person who is sponsoring the research - or the research champion must remember that most studies that are tactical or limited in nature and the results point to a clear course of action must communicate the findings to all the stakeholders. Swift action must be taken, and marketing programs are changed or enhanced as a result. All the value that the research has to offer has to be realized. To prevent such a waste, the Research Champion must:

  1. Put together a list of key people who have the power to implement research results. Get agreement from each person who will participate in a "Research Optimization" process once the study is completed.
  2. Once market research is completed, circulate the research report to your key people only when you have everyone's agreement on a date for attending a presentation of results and discussion of the findings. It is one thing to circulate a research report, and quite another to motivate people to read and study it. There is no doubt that you will get more out of both if your key people know that they are expected to react to the research findings at a particular time and place.
  3. Circulate a proposed action sheet. Attach a proposed action sheet when you circulate the report, and tell people they will be referring to their action sheets throughout the presentation and discussion. Check with everybody one day prior to the meeting to make sure that all the action sheets are completed. If not, reschedule the meeting.
  4. Use the presentation and discussion to kick off action plans. Immediately following the discussion or presentation (optimally, on the same day), have people go over their action sheet suggestions again. Write the ideas on an easel. Brainstorm new ideas as you go. Rank the idea as follows: (1) Let's get started on that one; (2) Ideas with merit but need greater thought... revisit in one month; (3) Longer-term good ideas... also revisit in three months.
  5. Champion the process. Completing the above steps is a great start, but if responsibility for action is in several hands, research champion must take sole responsibility for continuing to champion the recommendations. Even the best laid action plans bog down. And often actions have a way of morphing into something not suggested by the research in the first place. At realistic intervals, the champion should meet personally with the action takers. The relevant findings and action plans should be reviewed to determine whether they are still on target and going forward.
  6. Revisit ideas with merit within one month. Good ideas are often lost because there is no set procedure for their review. Always set aside time for your key people to review good ideas and determine whether they continue to merit consideration and action.
  7. Review the research in its entirety three months later. Most research does not lose its value for many months (or even many years) after being initially conducted. This is especially true for studies that have strategic and course-changing implications or for ideas deemed to have longer-term possibilities.

Time has a way of altering perspective. Revisiting the results will suggest changes to actions not yet implemented. It will also suggest new and better actions not previously conceptualized.
Invariably, it is worth the effort for everyone to reconvene and view the research results again. If the only thing accomplished is to reinforce actions that have been taken previously, there will be satisfaction in knowing that the research made a valuable contribution. You will be amazed at the new actions you generate by reviewing the research again in six months or even a year later.

Closing Thoughts

Research studies usually collect dust because they fail to get the attention they deserve in the kind of format that leads to action. But don't just take my word for it. Take one of your old research reports and dust it off. Follow steps 1-7 above, and then judge whether you had gotten everything out of that report that you thought was possible.

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