While much of the tactics of market research are similar from project to project, each is actually a custom endeavor. Sure, we have the basics going into each study. There’s the methodology – qual, quant, sensory, online, etc. The N is set, the screeners and guides developed and the market and respondent segments determined. But the end goal, while tightly defined as, “Capture the data sets the client needs for their marketing purposes,” is quite different when looked at on the micro rather than macro level.
To get from Pittsburgh to Reno there are many paths and methodologies one can take. We have options. We can drive and take the most expedient course, or the scenic route. We can travel via auto, bus, plane or even bicycle across the county. To get from a client’s “We need to know…” to “Here’s the data,” market researchers have many options. And in many cases there are numerous people involved in the process. From the end client’s side there may be several people. Then there is often the market research company with more than one person involved. Finally add in several people at the research facility provider and multiply that by the number of markets where testing will be conducted. Ouch! My head is spinning at the permutations and combinations of how many individuals might participate at some point in a market research project.
Remember the childhood game Telephone or Whisper Down the Lane? The first person spoke a short message to the child next to them and the message was passed to the next child and then the next child and so on. At that point the final child recited the message that usually had no relation to what the original child had sent. The lesson here, the more transmissions of a message the more likely it is to get modified or totally confused.
Market research projects can experience similar disconnects even when everyone involved is doing their best to maintain the integrity of the original details – goal. As studies move forward we frequently are involved with an iterative process. Communicating changes and variations forward and backwards becomes critical and likely problematic.
Comprehensive communications at all levels of the market research process require scrupulous attention by all parties involved. Email has become the preferred communications method. This means we need to realize written email content is sometimes lacking in clarity. What the writer intends may not be what the recipient understands. To avoid missed or mixed messaging I recommend the incorporation of a two-way hand-off or handshake for all communications. At the very least, the recipient responds to the sender rephrasing the directive in their own words. While it adds an extra step it accomplishes two objectives. 1 – It confirms the recipient is engaged in the process – a good communiqué to transmit to the sender often alleviating any concern he or she may have regarding the attentiveness of the recipient. 2 – It opens the possibility of mitigating any miscommunication that may arise. This two-way process is common in the data transmission world. It’s called data verification and essentially corroborates the data sent has been completely received. If not, the originating machine re-sends the data.
As market researchers we pride ourselves in being detail oriented and getting it right. Recommitting ourselves to basic communication methods will provide end clients with the reliable and actionable data they must have for their businesses to succeed. In the process and as a side benefit it will make our jobs less stressful and more rewarding.