Hello, My Name is Lisa Crumley and I Am a Research Zealot

Hello, My Name is Lisa Crumley and I Am a Research Zealot
Lisa Crumley
June 19, 2015
Magnifying glass

One of the things I am most proud to highlight when talking about Güd Marketing is not just our deep belief in market research, but in the capability we have built throughout the entire agency. Everyone here believes in the power of research.

We have been fortunate to have in-house market research expertise for decades – long enough for research to become fully enculturated into our approach to everything we do. And something I feel a strong sense of attachment to since my early career at General Motors centered on all forms of research, including product clinics and focus groups, advertising studies, customer satisfaction surveys and secondary data collection and analysis. It was during this time that my love of research was born and I was lucky to learn good methods and habits from some of the best minds in the field.

We always recommend research as part of our process. Different types of research drive the insights that are the cornerstone of the marketing plan and creative development.

What I get jazzed about is watching the story unfold through the different steps of research and seeing options and potential campaign ideas emerge as we gain deep knowledge of our target audiences; understand their current beliefs, behaviors and decision-making; and learn more about their interests and habits in ways that allow us to reach them, both with our message and our media plan. Our mantra is that we strive to reach the right people with the right message in the right way at the right time. Our strong commitment to research is what enables us to do that.

Over the years, we have experienced varied reactions to our research imperative. Some clients have an inkling that they want to know more about their brand, but they don’t know where to start. Some have to be convinced that research is necessary. Even those who come to us knowing quite a bit about research and believing they need it to improve their brand or market position often need guidance about which type of research will help them – and us – address their particular question, problem or aspiration.

Lately we have seen a surge in projects that will rely heavily on our research expertise for both strategic and creative direction, which is very encouraging.

Here are a few of the considerations we take into account when developing a research plan or recommendation.

First Things First

Before developing the research plan, it’s important to focus first on business goals and the budget that can be dedicated to research. From there we develop very precise research objectives so that we match the right approach to the issue at hand.

Research costs are driven by many different variables, which is why absolute clarity about research objectives is critical. The objectives – what the research must achieve – will inform all of the subsequent decisions about how it is done. Research projects can get bogged down with “nice to know” instead of “must know” information, so we make sure that everyone who is a party to the project understands and agrees to the key objectives and their priority.

A Worthy Investment

Research is an investment – a worthy investment, but an investment nevertheless. The upside is that it can be enduring and guide decisions for a few years. Just like a good creative campaign (another worthy investment) should hold up through time, so should solid research, depending on the nature of the project. All things considered, however, investing in good up-front research can save both time and money by eliminating trial and error.

Qualitative and Quantitative: Better Together

We researchers like to joke about the tension between the “Qualies” and the “Quants.” This tension is real and each method has its devotees and critics.

At Güd Marketing, we embrace both, depending on the objectives and budget. Each provides very different information, all of which is helpful to our work. When budget or timing won’t allow for both, we go back to the purpose of the research to determine which will be most helpful.

Quantitative research is required when measurement is necessary – when the research question calls for focused, narrow answers that might begin with “who” or “how many.”  Surveys are used with multiple-choice or scaled responses and statistical tests are run to determine whether differences in response are significant. For marketing campaigns, we use online and telephone surveys for the most part. At General Motors, we also ran large-scale quantitative product clinics where models of future cars were on display and different types of buyers were routed through the different models to rate specific features and indicate preferences and potential purchase.

We are currently preparing for a large public education campaign that educates Michigan residents about the ways in which sportsmen and sportswomen contribute to Michigan’s economy and the protection of our natural resources. Before we begin, we need to measure what the current thinking is – whether people are aware of this connection, precisely who is not aware, and the beliefs of different groups of people throughout the state. For instance, are there differences between men and women? Between younger people and older people? Between people who live on the east side of the state vs. the west side of the state? And so on. This measurement will serve two purposes: First, it will be a baseline for the campaign so we can measure again in the future and determine whether the campaign is working. Secondly, it will help us narrow in on the most important audience groups so that we can be efficient with our media spending and effective with the campaign messaging.

Qualitative research is often called exploratory research. Most people think of focus groups (a discussion group of approximately 10 participants led by a moderator) when they think of qualitative research, but other methods include one-on-one interviews, mini-groups (sometimes called dyads or triads, these are groups conducted with a small number of participants to allow for a different dynamic from a larger focus group), observation studies, diary studies, and so on. Qualitative research is much broader and typically answers the question “Why?” In the automotive studies I referenced earlier, we invited respondents from the product clinic to participate in focus group discussions to talk more about their ratings and preferences so that we could better understand the survey data.

In marketing and advertising, qualitative research is used for several purposes and is often favored because of its exploratory nature. Two of the most common uses are:

  • Message development. Nothing is more valuable to a campaign’s strategic and creative teams than hearing target audience groups talk about the issue at hand in their own words. Our work in traffic safety campaigns – most notably in the effort that brought Michigan’s belt use to 98 percent and number one in the country – is a great example. Quantitative methods identified the target audience group we had to reach (young male pickup truck drivers between 18 and 30). But it was the focus groups we conducted with these hard-core non-belters that were invaluable in understanding the underlying belief systems of our audience and framed the basis of the campaign and messaging. Our team still recalls the conviction of a young man who declared, “It’s my God-given right to go through the windshield of my truck.”
  • Input to quantitative methods. Another common use of interviews and focus groups is to provide input into the development of a survey, informing what topics should be included and providing insight into language that will resonate with the audience groups.

In the Wildlife Council project mentioned earlier, we are using interviews to help inform the baseline survey and, later in the project, will use both a survey and focus groups to test and refine campaign messaging. This project is a researcher’s dream because the council recognizes the vital importance of the research program in getting the campaign right the first time.

Doing Our Homework

Before we launch into primary research (surveys or focus groups), we learn as much as possible from existing information, using past research from the client as well as secondary exploration of other data sources. This helps us understand the landscape and can be extremely valuable in narrowing the scope of the research questions, thereby being most efficient with the budget. Sometimes there is enough existing information that, if budgets are tight, primary research can be scaled back or postponed to a later phase of the project.

We often find that a campaign will benefit from all methods of research and urge clients to consider the long-term payback of investing up front in research. But, when a full research program is in question, we look to secondary information to provide the road map and rationale for whether additional research is necessary.

Measuring the Impact

The best time to invest in research is when the stakes are high. It’s easy to use hyperbolic terms such as “invaluable” and “priceless” when describing the benefits of a good research program. The simple truth is that the impact of research is measurable. It shows up in campaign metrics. Are we reaching the right people? Are they responding to the message by taking the action we want them to? All of these things, and more, can be tracked.

Ultimately, the impact of the research shows up in whether the business goals were met. In the past few years, some of my proudest moments have been learning that we delivered results that exceeded our clients’ goals – from increasing seat belt use to helping families avoid foreclosure to generating participation in Michigan’s tax amnesty program. In each of these cases, research is what made the difference.