It is easier, faster, and cheaper than it has ever been to conduct research. However, having access to research tools does not always mean helpful or accurate results. Inferior market research, especially in business, can cause organizations to speed confidently in the wrong direction blind to potential opportunities. If you are going to make business decisions based on research, consider the following:
Know your goals
“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” – Yogi Berra
A common mistake is trying to learn too much and not distinguishing ‘nice to know’ from ‘need to know.’ Cramming too many goals into a study quickly leads to respondent fatigue and shallow uninformative results. Focusing the team on how the results will be used, and when, can help prioritize objectives, as well as ensure the findings will be used.
Get the team onboard
“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” –Henry Ford
One of the most common reasons research reports stay unused is that a key stakeholder did not buy-into the findings. As you are trying to drive decisions with what you learned, someone internally may say “You should have talked to medium, not small businesses” or “They would have liked the product if you had focused more on feature X.” To make sure results are used, it is important to get key stakeholders to agree beforehand on what should be learned and on the questions used to achieve those goals.
Choose method based on goals
Research methods are a tool to get you to your goals, but should not be an objective in themselves. Each method has strengths and weaknesses and should be chosen based on the combination of the goals, timeline, and budget. As a general rule, however, qualitative research (i.e. interviews, focus groups, and ethnography) is best for generating ideas, uncovering unmet needs, and gaining a deeper understanding of what people think and feel. Quantitative research (i.e. surveys) is best for making market projections and for helping organizations make final decisions. Keep in mind that what people say, think, and do are all different and highly influenced by the research method used.
Ask the right questions…
“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask.” – Anonymous, yet most often associated to Albert Einstein, either way, it is a great quote.
The wrong question will still give an answer. That is why it is essential to ask the right question to shed light on a problem. As a first step, make sure questions answer the pre-set objectives. In addition, create questions that will offer deep insight, not just scratch the surface of a problem or confirm prior knowledge.
…the right way
Quantitative questions should be clear and closed-ended. In addition, there are many ‘bad question’ types to avoid, from leading questions to confusing questions. A classic mistake is asking a ‘double-barreled question’ or one that has a clear ‘socially acceptable’ answer. For example “How important is it to you to exercise and eat healthy food?” is really asking two different things and may lead a respondent to provide a response that reflects social norms, not attitudes and behavior.
Qualitative research questions should be open-ended and promote reflection and conversation. Researchers may use ‘projective techniques’ (such as drawing pictures or using metaphors) to go beyond what participants might say and dive into beliefs and emotions. (i.e. If Apple was a car what kind of car would it be? Why did you pick that car?) These techniques can promote deeper insights than directly asking participants logical questions. The quality of the moderator or interviewer is also critical. Having an expert with no vested interest can promote honest responses, deeper reflection, and better conversation.
Talk to the audience that matters
Market research is a dialogue with the people whose opinions matter to your organization. For the conversation to be relevant, you need to talk to the right people. For instance, if you are concept testing an athletic shirt that monitors heart rate, you might get lukewarm responses if you are interviewing people who don’t cardio-exercise on a regular basis. In addition, for research results to have real-world significance, the participants should be representative of the socio-economic and demographic diversity of the target audience.
Analyze with accuracy and curiosity
“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.” – Zora Neale Hurston
Quantitative analysis requires high accuracy. As a first step, this means carefully reviewing survey data to remove respondents who randomly answer questions or speed through the survey. In addition, it is essential to use the correct statistical tests and validate calculations. The best quantitative analysis, however, requires the curiosity to go a step further by exploring patterns and irregularities in the data that provide deeper insight into helping organizations.
Qualitative analysis can appear deceptively simple but it is far more complicated than just reporting back what people said. Getting to helpful insights might call for synthesizing hours of conversations, finding common themes, and weaving together a meaningful story. In addition, qualitative research may require analyzing written, verbal and behavioral information to discover the ‘truth.’
Focus on findings
“I would have written you a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” – Blaise Pascal
Researchers should boil down data into essential and clear findings to help organizations make the right decisions. It can appear that more data is better, but in fact organizations may lose time in decision-making paralysis as they search for a call to action in a murky pool of irrelevant information.
If you are going to make business decisions based on research, ensure quality and ask for the ‘so what?’ Taking into account the above 8 principles will help you avoid some of the most common research pitfalls.
Written by Katie McComb