Primary research answers YOUR questions about YOUR business. The value of this specificity is enormous, but the price tag doesn’t have to be.
It starts with creating a plan and setting aside a fixed amount of budget, anywhere from 2%-5% of gross revenue, to support it. Initiating a structured research plan in your business means confronting some simple truths:
- Use your experience, opinions – and those of your friends and family – to make decisions based on research, rather than instead of it. Too many costly business decisions are made on the basis of introspection, when a formal research investigation could have provided clear direction.
- Without a formal structure and process, research is nothing more than sharing opinions.
- Quantify the value of the information: that will force you to separate the need to know from the nice to know.
- Focus 75% of your efforts in research design and the remaining 25% will take care of itself.
While the specific ingredients of a research plan are unique to your business, your customer, your prospect and your industry, effective plans share DNA: they are based on a thoughtfully selected group of respondents; they focus on issues that are critical to the success of the business; and, they identify actionable issues.
Just remember: information is a commodity – insights are precious.
A Wide Array of Primary Research Choices
There may be times when a single research investigation is called for: a product issue, a change in the competitive landscape or marketing environment, or an unexpected event. But, this should be additive to an ongoing research program. Information flows constantly around and into your company, so insights should, too.
Start each year with a plan for research – one that recognizes the previous year while reaching out to future years. The plan should be shaped to fit your particular business: some businesses need tracking studies that are repeated regularly [monthly, quarterly, annually] to show changes in performance. Others use quantitative [mail, phone, e-mail, online] that focus on particular issues or qualitative studies [panels, focus groups, intercepts, etc] that provide directional learning. Social media, like Twitter, can be very useful in creating research learning, but use them judiciously. Make sure you observe the norms of the community and are clear on your intentions. And, use the results with caution as well.
Deciding which method to use is based on what you are trying to learn. At the risk of oversimplification, if you’re trying to decide whether to take an action, or the likely impact of an action, use a quantitative study. If you’re interested in how to design a strategy or an action, use a qualitative study.
You can conduct a wide range of quantitative and qualitative studies online. Some online polls are free if you can accept a limited number of responses. Survey Monkey is probably the best known online survey tool. But there is also Instant Survey, Zoomerang, Vizu and others. The premium version of Zoomerang allows unlimited surveys of your existing customer lists, for less than $700. For a little extra you can access the company’s global panel of nearly three million people and aim your survey at specific segments. You can purchase a sample of names for about $1500. Zoomerang also offers specific Twitter and Facebook survey tools. Vizu places survey questions in banner ad spaces on blogs and websites, offering research on online ad performance, polling research and other services.
They also provide a wide range of no-cost white papers and research reports on their site. One note of caution: be careful using online samples: they may be less accurate than professionally selected panels. Use them as directional tools to test concepts quickly and affordably.
You can also create online communities to set up and moderate online panels. Forums or live chats can provide an ongoing stream of customer information. Plus, if you’re working from your own database of customers you can determine which customers to invite. Be careful: first, make sure the dialogue is carefully [and professionally] designed and moderated; and, remember this is qualitative directional information. It will likely represent the opinions of very few people and certainly will not reflect a representative sample of your entire customer community.
Of course finding and participating in online communities is one thing, managing them is quite another. Mzinga is a company that specializes in measuring and managing online communities. Costs can range up to several thousand dollars a month, but depending on the size of the enterprise this could represent good value in keeping up with what is important to online communities.
There are a multitude of options for creating and managing an effective research function in a small and medium size enterprise. Good research is like a good attorney: it doesn’t tell you what to do – it helps you better understand what will happen if you do it.