By David Capece, Managing Partner
Since my first research project as a member of the X Games team at ESPN, I have found research to be an outstanding way to learn about and stay a step ahead of your audiences. To compete today, we must understand our customers and new customer targets as though they are our friends (check out Seth Godin’s post on the difference between Strangers and Friends). By keeping a pulse on customer preferences, we gain greater intelligence to validate our path forward.
Basic information about consumers, markets, and competitors is readily available online through reports by eMarketer, Forrester, ComScore, and others. Demographics are often the starting point for consumer research, while psychographics prove to be much more revealing and insightful. Hopefully you already know whether your audience is male or female, young or old, wealthy or middle class. This basic demographic information is a good starting point that can be built upon by more advanced research and analysis. Knowing that you have a young, educated, middle class, female audience is a good start. Recognizing that you are weighted towards busy moms who are concerned with their finances is more helpful. Taking it a step further, you’ll want to understand the intersection of customer lifestyle, need-states, and decision making with your offering.
As you learn more and more about your audience, you should focus on the problems that you are solving (their need-state), their current solutions (your competition), their process for making a selection (decision process), and the factors that will lead to their selection (drivers of choice). Along the way, you should also learn about how they perceive your brand, product, and services and compare that to the best-in-class brand, product, and services.
Great research goes beyond the superficial and hones in on very specific areas to provide new insight. For example, in the case of the busy young mom, she might tell you that she prefers McDonald’s to Burger King. You’ll need to take it a step further to find out that she prefers McDonald’s to Burger King because her kid prefers McDonald’s while in fact she personally prefers healthier options. This is helpful in identifying the kid as a key decision-maker, but you might have already known this. Great market researchers will develop hypotheses of potential answers in advance, so that the research can focus in on specific questions. For example, you’ll want to hone in on key attributes (affordable, healthy, convenient, kid-friendly), emotional drivers (being connected to the community, being proud of the way she raises her children, and being a personal anchor in a hectic life), and decision-making process. As you advance your research, you will have qualitative and quantitative research options to choose from.
Qualitative Research vs. Quantitative Research
We all learn in different ways. Sometimes we want to hear the story in the words of the consumer, other times we let numbers tell the story. There is validity to both qualitative and quantitative research, and often we find it is best to do a qualitative study followed by a quantitative study. If you are in the early stages of evaluating an opportunity, qualitative is best to give you a better understanding of the issues at hand as you can cover broader topic areas, solicit new thinking, and flexibly modify your approach in real-time. It is important to hear from the consumer that they don’t necessarily like choices A, B, or C but that they actually like a particular aspect of each. Qualitative research can take the form of depth-interviews or focus groups, both of which are conversations with the consumer.
As you gain more information, you will hone in on more specific questions. Ultimately, your organization will have 2 or 3 primary paths. The shortcoming of focus groups is that you are dealing with a small sample size in groups that are swayed by each other. Due to sheer numbers, a quantitative study will be more definitive in helping you choose your path. At its best, quantitative research can provide comprehensive results that tie together several issues in a way that lets you see the interaction between multiple factors. Personally, I am a big fan of quantitative research, but suggest that you exhaust all other research and analysis before launching a quantitative study.
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