The role of solid market research continues to grow as the marketplace becomes more competitive and costly. Research takes the guesswork out of business decisions.
“Research is important to the business decision making process by eliminating speculation and providing confirmation,” said Vicki Clewis, vice president of research with Southern Research Group of Jackson. “Decisions are based on solid findings allowing you to base decisions on what you know versus what you think.”
Kim Moss, executive vice president of media and research with GodwinGroup, said online surveys are becoming increasingly popular as a new trend in market research.
“Implementation is less expensive, as long as you have a database of e-mail addresses, and the turnaround time is much quicker,” she said. “They are useful for quantitative analysis, and consumers can answer on their own time frames. They are less invasive than phone surveys, but they don’t allow the researcher to probe or clarify any of the responses like a phone survey does.”
According to Clewis, phone surveys and focus groups are still the most widely used research methods utilized for her company’s clients. Phone surveys answer the “what” questions and focus groups are still used to answer the “why” questions.
Moss urges anyone starting a new business to do plenty of secondary research. “People are often surprised by how much free information is available online if they know where to look for it,” she said. “You can learn a lot about industry trends, the competitive situation and the consumer by mining the Internet for research that has already been conducted and is readily available. This type of research keeps you from going into the business blind.”
Primary research can be very beneficial to gain further insight into consumer response to a business’ product or service. Focus groups are a great tool to learn about consumer perception, she added.
‘Talk to customers,
clients and vendors’
Moss also has advice for a business that may be struggling or suffering a setback. “Talk to customers, clients and vendors,” she said. “Sometimes they can point out mistakes that seem obvious to them and not at all to the business’ management. Secondary research can also help determine if the struggles are industry wide or if a business needs to look within their own operations.”
Both veteran researchers have plenty of examples of how research helped clients make decisions and helped businesses be successful.
Clewis tells of a client who was expanding into a new market and needed to know what the awareness level and company perception were in the new market.
“A phone survey was conducted with a sample of consumers in the new market area,” she said. “The survey not only showed the level of awareness and perception of the company within the market, but also confirmed the major competitors. Additionally, the survey data also gave valuable insight into the profile of the potential new customers and what advertising methods best reached them.”
Filling the gaps
Moss said almost every business that invests in market research will see the benefit to its business’ success once it determines what gaps the research needs to fill.
“As an example, ad testing can be a very beneficial method to gaining consumer feedback on a marketing campaign before hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars are spent on media to launch the campaign,” she said. “In a primary research study conducted by Microsoft, they tested their Vista Edition by observing how test families used the software. Microsoft was able to determine the weaknesses of the user interface so they could adjust their product development guidelines.”
Secondary research can also play a very important role. The GodwinGroup recently wrapped up a project with a multi-family housing developer who came to then for insight into the demographic makeup, housing situation, rental situation and economic characteristics of the bottom three Mississippi counties post-Katrina to determine if there is sufficient demand for rental housing before engage in their building project. This research becomes an invaluable tool to smart investing of marketing dollars.
Another Southern Research Group client was interested in monitoring the levels of satisfaction in key areas of its business with its customers on an ongoing basis. In this instance, a random sample of phone surveys was conducted on a weekly basis.
“Customers were asked to grade several aspects of the service they received,” Clewis said. “This information was then reported to the client on a weekly basis. The ‘report card’ allowed the client to set goals for each key area as well as identify areas of excellence and areas where improvement was needed. With the continued collection on a weekly basis, the client was able to monitor when changes in policy or training had a positive impact as well as reward those areas providing continual excellent service.
She also recalls a client about to launch a new advertising campaign who wanted to make sure the campaign was appealing to those it hoped to attract with the new message. A group of potential targets was assembled and confirmed the message was on target and very appealing to the intended target.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.