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Wanted: Information For Better Business

Is Your Marketing Research Program Telling Lies?

By Leza Raffel, The Communication Solutions Group, Inc.

How do you assess your company's effectiveness, or determine what's working and what's not when it comes to customer service, sales, or marketing? The answer seems easy: You ask.


But how do you ask? What are the right questions? Will the answers enable you to extract important information and make substantive changes, or simply confirm errant assumptions?


Businesses that survive and thrive in the marketplace never assume they know what their customers want. Whether you're testing a product, analyzing a program or assessing weaknesses and strengths, it always pays to get honest, useful answers to questions — even if the answers aren't what you would like them to be. Casual research yields casual, unproductive results. If you want the right information — the kind that produces precise, cost-saving strategies and effective action plans — you need to ask the right questions, to the right people, in the right way.


Go Outside, to See Inside! To get an honest, unbiased view of what's going on in your business, neutrality is essential. No matter how professional or prepared your internal market research team may be, maintaining complete neutrality when it comes to examining your company is almost impossible. All employees want to see their company succeed, and as a result, you may get answers filtered through "rose colored glasses." Likewise, if customers are confronted by representatives of the company they patronize, human nature tells us that the desire to avoid "hurt feelings" or negative implications will undoubtedly influence answers.


An outside marketing research company, on the other hand, brings no personal biases to the results of a market research program. The research firm's job is to get the information and answers your company needs... period. Honest feedback is the heart and soul of any research effort, and having an outside source to deliver hard, unbiased facts is paramount.


Survey Tools & Tactics

There are many marketing research tools at your disposal, each with their own pros and cons. The major ones include:


1. Written surveys. Well-developed written surveys are excellent for gathering quantitative data; questions that can be answered via numerical scales. Written surveys are also useful for longitudinal studies so a company's performance can be statistically compared with previous years. The downside: Written questions can't probe deeply into issues, and customers can't elaborate on answers. Plus, you should only expect to get a 10% response rate from written surveys.


2. Phone Surveys. This type of survey is useful for gathering both quantitative and qualitative responses because both the questioner and respondent are not restricted by single-answer questions. The mechanics of phone surveys can be challenging, however, and it's usually best to schedule times when the respondent has ample time to answer questions.


3. Focus Groups. Used for qualitative, "free form" information, focus groups should never include more than ten people. They are excellent for getting an in-depth assessment of public reaction to new products or services, advertising themes or slogans.


The bottom line on marketing research: Be honest and professional with implementation, carefully analyze results, and use the information you gather to form an action plan. To ensure you get the information you need, consider using an outside marketing research firm that can maintain complete neutrality and uses skilled researchers to ask the right questions in the right way.


Remember, the goal of any marketing research program isn't to get the answers you want, but the information you need.




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