Research Can Save Your Marketing From This Common Blind Spot

We see it all the time.

Many executives are so immersed in the day-to-day running of their organizations that they cannot see how other people perceive them.

It’s a natural and very common blind spot. Most companies are founded because someone recognizes a need that isn’t being met, a solution that nobody else is providing. And at that point, the business and its executives know their target market very well. Over time, however, so many things can change – from market conditions and competitive pressures to technology and how people work and live. Most of these changes happen gradually. So, it’s hard to recognize when they may impact the target audience and how the target audience may change over time.

Denial of this blind spot can quickly lead to strategies and tactics built on suppositions and biases that may or may not align with reality. And that can shrivel brand awareness, market share, sales, and even talent attraction.

Research can reveal the big picture you need to see

When organizations develop beyond their beginnings, when the market landscape shifts, when customer needs evolve and any time the company wants to change its direction or messages, it’s easy to make assumptions about business implications. It can even seem reasonable to apply incomplete information (such as one or two people mentioning that they didn’t see your emailed newsletter) to published opinions (like an editorial about the success of one company’s texted newsletters) and believe this suggests that you should change your newsletter distribution to mobile texts – especially if the idea’s been ticking in your head for a while, anyway.

Your new idea could turn out to be successful. But if you base it more on a gut feeling than on viable data and trends, it’s just as likely, if not more so, that you could undercut progress. Equally important, if you don’t measure new programs against measured benchmarks, you will have no idea how they perform. And poor performance will be more expensive than the costs of any research.

In other words, before you make big decisions about your brand direction, sales approach, marketing, and communications, you owe it to your business to inform your decisions with unbiased information and insights into your historical and current performance, as well as likely expectations for the future.

“Qualitative and quantitative research … can be a powerful combination. In many instances,  qualitative research identified unique brand perceptions that no one expected. Then, a follow-up survey validated higher than expected prevalence of this attitude among the broader target audience.”

Kip Creel, Principal
StandPoint, Atlanta Research Consultancy

What kind of research are we talking about?

There are basically two kinds of research – quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative research measures data or information that can be viewed as usable statistics. For instance, what percentage of our customers visit our website, what percentage use our mobile app, and what percentage prefer to call on the phone? Or, how common are certain views among our audience? These kinds of research studies are usually conducted via surveys and questionnaires, and require a representative sample size – that is, a relatively large number of respondents – to keep margins of error low.

Qualitative research seeks to understand perspectives and motivations. What makes our target audience think and act the way they do? How do they perceive our brand – and why? This type of research typically engages fewer respondents in a more in-depth setting, such as a focus group or one-on-one interview.

It is essential to design questions in a way that limits bias. For instance, you probably wouldn’t ask, “On a scale of one through five, with one signifying ‘somewhat’ and five signifying ‘completely,’ how much do you love this product?” A better-worded question would be, “On a scale of one through five, with one signifying ‘I hate it,’ and five signifying ‘I love it,’ how do you feel about this product?”  Likewise, in both qualitative and quantitative research, it is important to always ask questions in the same way to avoid skewing responses in ways the respondent thinks the interviewer wants.

Sure, but how does it work in the real world?

Here at Relish Marketing, we recognize these two types of research as complementary, often coming together to reveal trends and provide the basis for insights. For instance, TEPHINET, the global network of field epidemiology training programs, was looking ahead to its 25th anniversary. The organization, which aims to ensure that every country in the world has the capacity needed to protect and promote the health of its population, had evolved significantly over its history. Especially as the global COVID-19 pandemic was shining a public light on the essential value of field epidemiology, TEPHINET’s leaders sought ways to increase awareness and improve engagement among key audiences.

Our three-pronged approach included:

  • Quantitative research, surveying approximately 300 field epidemiology training program students, graduates, and staff, as well as representatives of partner organizations and staff members. The research was aimed at evaluating current brand awareness and communications effectiveness to establish a baseline for annual improvement.
  • Qualitative research, involving 12 one-on-one, in-depth interviews of field epidemiology training program representatives, partners, and internal organization staff, who represented multiple geographic areas and roles. This research aimed to generate deeper visibility into perceptions of the organization and its communications approach, as well as challenges and opportunities for improvement.
  • A communications workshop with key stakeholders, during which we explored communications goals and messages in light of the research findings.

Together, the research and workshop informed both immediate and long-term creative and strategic communications recommendations, with key tactics supporting the insights and strategic goals identified in the study. Equally important, the workshop reinforced awareness of communications needs, challenges, and opportunities among critical stakeholders, encouraging their involvement and participation as new communications plans were rolled out.

Why guess and assume when you can know?

Above all, research provides a tremendous opportunity to gain visibility into the experiences and perspectives of key individuals – be they customers, partners, employees, or other stakeholders. Our clients have told us that having Relish conduct their research tends to yield the most open and authentic results possible since people may be more likely to share issues with a third party than the people they engage with on a day-to-day basis. Wherever you are in your communications journey, the path toward better marketing strategy and creative communications is almost always better paved with research.