What is the role of research in the marketing process? A researcher
who conducts on-the-ground information gathering and a marketer
who utilizes that information are likely to have very different
answers to that question. However, both sides would agree on
one point - they want and need to compile good research.
But what is good research? That’s the real issue. After
20 years of experience with good and bad research, my colleagues
and I developed some theories on how you can tell the difference
- and, more importantly, how you can keep the good research
There are several basic truths of good research, truths which
could almost be considered "hidden in plain sight." That
is, they are straightforward and obvious, but often hard to
see for all the day-to-day deadlines and multiple priorities
- the business of doing business. It’s time to take a
step back and establish the basics of quality research.
What is "Good" research
A judgment on the quality of research depends on who’s
doing the judging. What a marketer considers useful research
may be incomprehensible - and thus useless - to others in an
organization. Therefore, any determination of good research
must take into account its end purpose.
From a scientific perspective, good research is valid and reliable.
That is, it accurately measures what it sets out to measure
- and, significantly, the measurement device will yield a consistent
perspective if used over and over. Validity and reliability
are "cost of entry" criteria for good research.
From a marketing perspective, good research leads to an action
that has a positive impact on sales and brand equity. It provides
an insight that can be translated into a marketing action,
which in turn leads to greater purchase frequency, stronger
brand equity, and increased volume and profits.
From a user perspective, good research excites and stimulates.
It reveals an insight into consumer motivation, attitudes and
behaviors. It tells marketers things they didn’t know
before, and gives them definitive direction on what to do next.
From the organization’s perspective, good research generates
convergence on a common point of view and confidence in the
indicated action. If an organization can trust in the quality
of its research, it can trust that the research will support
to attempts grow volume profitability.
And while no one sets out to do bad research, the success rate
of meeting all the criteria stated above is undoubtedly far
less than 100 percent. Can you improve your success rate? Absolutely
- if you understand a few simple and straightforward rules
for generating good research.
What is "Good" research
1. Design is "King"
Most marketers know the importance of getting the right fundamental
research design in place. The greater challenge is incorporating
into that design the more subtle design elements that reveal
an insight into consumer behavior. Battle-tested researchers
do exactly this by proceeding from an apparently adversarial
position, to wit: Consumers don’t know why they buy
what they buy and if they do, they don’t want you to
Direct questions alone don’t delve deep enough to reveal
the real reasons behind consumer behavior. To truly understand
consumers’ motives and actions, you must determine relationships
between what they think and feel and what they actually do.
This is why "derived importance" and other measures
that quantify the relationships between actions and behavior
yield such different results than their stated counterparts.
There is a reason why researchers call participants "respondents," and
not "thinkers." Researchers want consumers to give "gut" responses
to questions, not well-thought-out answers to explain - and
perhaps justify or obscure - their behavior.
Design your research around "what ifs". That is,
ask yourself "what will I do in the marketplace if I learn
X about my consumer or my brand?" Go through this "what
if" exercise multiple times in order to develop multiple
alternative scenarios. When your research provides the data
that allows you decide which scenario is more valid, you likely
have a good research design - with a potential marketing plan
already in place.
2. Content is "Queen"
Content encompasses the statements researchers use
to uncover consumer motivations and reveal interest in specific
At Zyman Group, we think of these statements as "mini-hypotheses," reasons
why consumers use your brand, product or service. From this
perspective, the better the hypotheses, the better the research.
Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to developing the type
of statements that will lead to new insights and better positioning
and strategy. Creating such statements requires a combination
of empathy and creativity - attributes which can only be learned
on the job. It’s also important to include the users
of the research when you develop these statements or hypotheses,
and review them with the broader group of stakeholders (e.g.,
upper management, non-marketing functional groups). It’s
a creative exercise where ideas can spawn ideas, and ownership
in developing these "creative articulations" of
brand attributes and benefits brings ownership and advocacy
of the results.
3. Knowledge Needs a Plan
If "0" equals the starting point for a research
project and "100" equals the point of achieved
success (i.e., new insights that lead to a positive impact
in the marketplace), the best design and content can only get
you to 50! So how do you go the rest of the distance? By using
the marketing strategy that is developed from the knowledge
the research provides. In sports, war, investing, or any other
competitive environment, knowledge and insight are worthless
unless you can develop a plan to put them into action.
In sports, war, investing, or any other competitive environment,
knowledge and insight are worthless unless you can develop
a plan to put them into action.
Planning forces companies to anticipate different scenarios
or outcomes. Good research has an analytical plan that anticipates
different outcomes and the corresponding actions the outcomes
would warrant. Most importantly, this planning occurs during
the research design process. If you wait until the data has
been collected, it’s too late to add a question that
could potentially make or break your ability to drawn definitive
4. Know what position your research will play
In some situations, new insights and knowledge are essential
because management or managers have become complacent or overconfident.
They have compiled, organized, quantified and rationalized
reams of research, and are convinced they know all they need
to know. In this situation, the new research - more specifically,
the research design or technique - plays a key role in bringing
credibility to the table when airing new insights. In other
situations, the research acts more like a pinch hitter, stepping
in when called upon to play a specific, limited, but important
role in the overall process. Knowing the position your research
will play can increase its effectiveness in proposals, supplier
contacts, final presentations, or marketing conclusions.
5. Bad research can look like good research
Most of us know
the hallmarks of bad research when we see it. For instance,
users can’t follow the logic; the data does not support
the findings; the conclusions, if there are any, seem to come
out of left field. More insidiously, bad research can sometimes
masquerade as good research. This doesn’t necessarily
mean sample sizes are inadequate, significance testing is lacking,
or questions are misleading.
The worst part about bad research is that it acts like a bad
The problem is far more subtle than that, looking at averages
that disguise meaningful differences between different consumer
segments. Or using rank order of importance to make choices,
when in fact the actual differences between attributes are
meaningless. Or assuming the self-selecting sample from your
Internet study is actually representative of target (and not
skewed on an underlying characteristic that can distort your
The worst part about bad research is that it acts like a bad
You don’t know you’re infected with it until it’s
too late to do
anything about it.
6. Quick Turnaround – Good Quality – Inexpensive:
Pick any two
Remember what your parents told you - if it seems too good
to be true, it is. Granted, the Internet has helped cut costs
while increasing reach, but only to a certain point. If a supplier
promises all three…see number 5.
Good research isn’t as hard to come by as one might imagine.
Good research requires discipline, dedication, and an awareness
of the full opportunities that quality research can present.
By bringing your entire team on board, your company can make
your own research less of a task and more of a roadmap.