In a time of ever-shrinking budgets, stretching resources and having to watch every penny, you might be surprised that our firm has completed more market research for clients in the past two years than ever before.
You might also wonder why the clients we work with look to research. After all, research alone doesn’t lead to increased sales, changes in perception or improved market position.
The answer is they can’t afford not to.
In fact, it’s so ingrained into how we do things that I’m not sure we could really help a client who didn’t want to at least do a minimum amount of research. Not that we’re rigid, but the marketplace is littered with infamous examples of products and programs that organizations failed to research, conducted ill-designed research or ignored the issue altogether with disastrous consequences—think New Coke, GAP, Pontiac Aztek or Vioxx.
While millions of dollars could be at stake, oftentimes the risk is smaller, but every bit as important. It breaks our heart to see precious resources wasted because someone didn’t take the time to target the audience, get the right message or understand what exactly the problem is in the first place.
Research doesn’t have to be a heavy, all or nothing approach. We know and have often sharpened our pencil to get it done through creative sources. Secondary (already existing) research has never been more plentiful—best practice examples of other successful messages around a given topic , for example, are only a strategic Google search away. Now you have to keep your eyes peeled for the quality and source of course, but you don’t want to ignore it going into major decisions or programs. We’d like to think we know the academic best practices through our work in that sector and our credentials, but blend it all with a liberal dose of street smart guerilla research too.
We never move ahead planning strategy for a project without an intimate understanding of the audience we’re reaching out to beforehand. Sometimes a client isn’t sure of their audience. Sometimes clients know their audience, but they don’t really know much about them. With our deep experience into qualitative research we can probe deep into the minds of various audiences and segment target markets.
On projects without extensive budget for research, we frequently test to make sure we’re on the right track. We conduct best practice research into the competitive landscape for other messages, effective or otherwise.
Focus Groups, Insight Interviews, exiting polling, surveys: these are the tools that can inform a business strategy. We never suggest research for the sake of research—it’s always to support an outcome like developing a long term strategic plan, testing messaging, or identifying perceptions around issues and organizations alike.
We know when to use Focus Groups and Insight Interviews separately to collect specific types of feedback and when to complement one with the other to give us a broader spectrum of insight. A Focus Group allows for a melding of thoughts that grow and can be teased out from group discussion, but Insight Interviews focus on highly targeted feedback from key informants like business and community leaders or individual stakeholders considered experts on an issue. We’ve used both tools to inform strategic planning for organizations like the Community Colleges of Spokane (CCS). Here we spoke to a full spectrum of audiences—students, faculty, administrators, business and community leaders. The purpose was to identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that CCS will use to chart the best course to lead them into the next decade amid changing student populations and severe budget limitations.
Research results directly impact the business strategy and sales, as we saw as a result of our work with intelligent self-service developer Next IT Corporation. DHC conducted multiple Focus Groups around consumer perceptions of their ActiveAgent program to refine the program, test its effectiveness and develop new strategies for messaging.
Findings compiled from Insight Interviews we conducted on behalf of the Washington Center for Nursing (WCN) informed recommendations regarding how communications could assist the Center in their work on the nursing shortage. Insight came from key informants such as nurse executives, nursing educators and WCN board members, as well as nurses currently in the field. From this came a new communications strategy and mission statement for WCN.
Common sense dictates the difficulty in crafting a message for an audience if we don’t know what that audience is thinking. Both DHC and our clients are always surprised from the level of insight research reveals—no matter what level of understanding we think we have about an audience.
Research is the foundation of an informed, results-driven approach to a campaign. It gives us an accurate baseline from which to form goals and craft the most effective messages—it isn’t always the whizz-bang creative idea that resonates with audiences, but an understanding of our audiences give us a window into what will resonate.