Improving the bottom line for businesses is what market research is all about. The firms that provide this service use a variety of methods to accomplish that goal.
Southern Research Group (SRG) of Jackson has been providing research for more than 20 years and does surveys all over the country. The firm works with a broad variety of clients that includes telecommunications companies, healthcare, banking, gaming, insurance and law.
“Everyone needs research,” said Vicki Clewis, vice president of research. “There are lots of ways research can affect clients’ bottom lines.”
She says market research is needed in lots of instances and can be qualitative and/or quantitative, depending on what the client is trying to do. Information can be used to gain new customers as well as used internally to fine tune operations, products or services.
“We can learn about customer satisfaction and how a client can improve on that level of satisfaction,” Clewis said. “We may want to determine if a client’s advertising dollars are being spent well by going back and looking at surveys to see how much they’ve moved the needle.”
She gave some examples of how Southern Research works with clients. In the highly competitive situations of telecommunications companies, they may do qualitative telephone surveys to make sure the client is maintaining satisfaction levels and keeping the focus where it meets the needs of customers.
For a school district attempting to pass a bond issue, the research firm may measure voting opinions in the community so time, effort and money are not wasted on a measure not likely to pass. “It’s expensive to put a bond issue on a ballot. It costs taxpayers so it ‘s best to hold back if public opinion is not positive,” Clewis said. “Some people don’t think about that.”
Clients may want to test a new ad campaign or concept. “They hope the intended message gets across and is viewed positively. They can correct it before it’s put in an ad and not waste money,” she said. “That’s a great mechanism, especially for public service messages.”
Best time to find out
In other instances, a company may be struggling with a tag line. With the right kind of research, they can see which tag line has the most favorable recall or response with a target audience. “That’s the time to spend money and find out — before the ad campaign is launched,” Clewis said.
John McKie, senior vice president of marketing with GodwinGroup of Jackson, gives a recent example of how research helped a client. An out-of-state medium-size hospital had new ownership and was contemplating a name change as well.
“They needed to know what their staff and the general public thought of that,” he said. “We used a combination of methods to get a sampling of opinions. We were looking for qualitative information as opposed to quantitative.”
Focus groups and one-on-one interviews were used with the staff which was divided into physicians and others. The general public was divided into former patients and non-patients. The hospital gained information that was incorporated into the new name which was successfully launched.
Comes with a cost
McKie says that unfortunately, clients with small budgets can’t afford a lot of research. Recently, a business-to-business client wanted to know what could be done with no budget for research.
“We suggested they create an advisory board made up of customers and community partners,” he said. “With a 10- to 12-person board, they can periodically talk to that group and find out about their competition and if customers’ needs are being met. Instead of paying the participants, donations can be made to their favorite charities.”
Research, he adds, is like shining a light in the dark and any amount of light can help. Research also lessens the role of emotions in decision making. “It’s all about getting more information and finding out what can make a business more successful,” McKie said. “But, you should not do research if your mind is already made up.”
Considering the approach
Jim Neidorf with the The Ramey Agency of Jackson says another instance for not doing research is a specific ad or television commercial. “That’s not a satisfactory way of judging the public’s response,” he said. “We do use research as a way of determining a target audience and people’s attitudes about various products and product categories.”
Neidorf, senior vice president of marketing at Ramey, explains that the agency likes to use a combination of qualitative and quantitative research for their clients, including BankPlus, the Catfish Institute and Viking Range.
“That’s usually the best approach,” he said. “Those are products that appeal to dramatically different audiences.”
Ongoing benchmark research and follow-up research on topics that can easily be repeated are used for BankPlus to see how attitudes are changing. “They’re expanding and have had a tremendous jump in name recognition in the last few years,” he said.
Five years ago, the agency did a major research project for Viking Range to find out about attitudes of the ranges by owners and non-owners. They obtained that information and also found out there are regional buying differences among customers.
“Research is a tool. It’s not just for research but is related to the work we’re doing,” Neidorf added.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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