There are many ways to conduct market research on consumer or trade behavior. All of them are highly flawed but most of them can be very valuable tools. I’d like to share a few ideas on how to use the different formats and to give you some examples of what you can do to use the insights to grow your business and influence perception.
Research falls into two broad buckets: qualitative and quantitative. And it goes without saying that you must work with reputable firms with impeccable integrity who are willing to push back and challenge you every step of the way. You want the research to stand up to third-party scrutiny so pick a partner who comes with great references.
QUALITATIVE RESEARCH Qualitative research is often more focused on interviews with very limited numbers of people. They can take the form of one on one interview, one on three, small groups or focus group settings. The purpose is to try and find directional insights and ideas that lead you to want to explore beyond the anecdote. One of the most beneficial aspects of this type of work is watching the expressions and intensity of opinion and emotion. Yes, you can often get a dominant person who can derail the conversation. But a great moderator who knows what she is doing can manage the personalities and help extract several key ideas.
I have spent more than a million dollars on qualitative and quantitative research over my 30 year career. And, I usually start with just a few hypothesis I want to test. For example, do these consumer carry a certain belief or not. Do they show any level of passion about the topic or is it just something to talk about and they really don’t care. I think of this as measuring their temperature on issues and I just want to see if the topic exhibits a fever. You do need to be mindful that some introverts may not exhibits a strong opinion with their voice, but often you can observe opinions in body language.
I also love to observe the time when the moderator leaves the room and you get to hear the participants speak to one another more openly about the subject. Often the best learning occurs at this time when they appear to be more candid as the ‘teacher’ is out of the classroom. I plan for this to occur a few times during the sessions so I can hear and observe what can be a more honest opinion.
Being mindful of what we will do with research, I almost always like to interview some of the participants after the event on one specific questions so that I can get one more chance to ask them my essential question of the day. I get to study their responses where they are free to speak just to me and the camera without others present. Many times I‘ll use clips from that discussion to make a key point that can be used online or in customer visits. This can be a useful way to help share the results of the research with other colleagues at your company. Check out this example below where we wanted consumers, in their own words, to describe their experience using our product versus a competitors. (Note, the sample in hand which helped remind them of the product).
QUANTITATIVE RESEARCH After getting some insight into how the target audience views my hypothesis, I then like to do some quantitative research. Today it is so much less expensive to do this because of the Internet. Years ago we would spend buckets of money and months to get results from 25 question surveys. Today it is much less money and so easy to execute. You still need to make sure you are asking the right questions to the right audience. But now, you can take your hypothesis that evolved from 12 people or 24 people in a room to 500 people nationally.
Surveys of larger groups allow you to see patterns and attitudes that help validate your own insights and observations from the smaller qualitative sessions. From the final research report, it can be useful to turn the material into short summaries that your sales team can use to help tell a story. Or you can weave together a piece of research, some video clips and some statistics into one comprehensive animated video.
The key to all of this is that in B2B settings, the trade will often be skeptical of any research done by you. So, if you can make your point through using the results from your competitor or third part studies, that helps enormously. In our case, one of our competitor did some research that supported our main thesis and we shared some of that in our marketing materials.
As always, an example can be helpful. I’m not revealing any secrets in sharing some work done during the last few years at the wine closure company I work for because it is all public and on our website.
My hypothesis was that I doubted that the consumer really cared much about what type of cork was in a wine bottle. I thought they wanted to get to the wine. My belief was that unaided, they would say this too. Unaided means that you ask an open question like, “How do you decide what wine to buy?” You don’t ask them to pick from a list of reasons why consumers buy wine. Unaided responses is a way NOT to lead the witness.
We did this research in many countries and the answers kept coming back. Consumers buy wine based on price, color, geography, brand, and occasion and on and on. The type of closure or cork didn’t really drive their decision. We did focus groups in the U.S, France, Brazil and elsewhere. We did quantitative studies in other markets too. All the data showed our main point – the consumer didn’t understand the role of the closure UNLESS it broke in the bottle, crumbled while being removed or affected the flavor or taste of the wine such as having cork taint.
We put together a booklet summarizing what we learned and turned it into a press release. We shared some video clips from focus groups and we developed a nice animation that brought in research from our competitors. We told a simple story that helped to shape a narrative that reflects what the research indicated.
There is more to this story but you can see that it all begins with testing a few hypotheses and then sharing data and personal stories to communicate the main point. Most importantly, we developed tools to help our customers gain some knowledge from the studies we conducted.We did work with a few market research firms but one that I particularly liked is based in California called Merrill Research. How are you using market research to help you tell your story and to test your hypotheses?
Need help sorting through some market research projects? Connect with me through Clarity and I'll be happy to coach you to help you find insights or to test hypotheses about your market.