Research. Is it worth the time and money?

What people do, what they say and what they say they do are three very different things. When it comes to understanding people, context is everything. When it comes to effective research, it means using the right tactics and asking the right questions.

Effective brand building needs three things – clear diagnosis, sound strategy and well executed tactics. Strategy is useless without diagnosis, and research makes that diagnosis more accurate. The challenge is making sure that any research you commission will add value to that diagnosis and not add more confusion into mix.

Here are six things we’ve learned that are worth bearing in mind when planning a research project… 

Be clear on the goal

Starting with the obvious – have a clear outcome. The point of doing research is to be able to make better decisions, so before you do anything you need to be clear on the question you’re looking to answer. What do you need to know more about in order to make decisions based on evidence rather than opinions? 

Involve key stakeholders early

We talk about this a lot – the importance of bringing people with you on the journey – and it’s no different when we’re talking about research. Presenting a fait accompli at the end of a research project is one sure-fire way to make sure you come up against a variety of objections and questions around the validity of the work… the methodology, the sample, the lack of data, the lack of depth etc. Make sure that you’ve identified those key stakeholders and brief them as early as possible on the rationale behind conducting the research and that they buy into your reasoning. Early conversations will fend off painful conversations down the line.

Beware blind spots and internal biases

If you feel that you have to conduct some internal interviews as part of your research, be careful. Assumptions based on internal perspectives are dangerous. We call it the inside-out bias. People who have been in the business a long time and have seen pretty much everything there is to see. When it comes to understanding what customers ‘really’ want, they assume they know, because they’ve spent years working with them. And that’s fine, to a point. But when used to shape what a brand does in future (rather than thinking of it as a valuable resource to help us learn from and build on the past), it can steer you down the wrong path. How people have behaved in the past doesn’t tell you how they’ll act in future. 

Don’t use research for ‘validation’

We’ve been guilty of this ourselves in the past – let’s use some ‘light touch’ research to validate what we’ve heard from elsewhere (often, the same internal opinions highlighted above as being problematic). But the goal of research isn’t to find the ‘right’ answer. It’s to learn so we can more meaningfully diagnose a problem and develop a strategy to achieve a goal.  The problem with qualifying or validating what we already know, is that it creates the opportunity to do ‘just enough’ to allow confirmation bias to sneak in and skew things from the start. Approach every piece of research with the assumption that everything you know, or think you know, is wrong. 

Pick the right tool for the task

Not all research projects need to be big, complicated behemoths. We often get asked to do ‘a bit of quick and dirty research’. Which is fine – the main thing is that you use the right tool for the task. Is it a ‘what’, ‘how much’ or ‘why’ question you’re trying to answer? The what and why will need qualitative methods in the form of narrative insights. The ‘how much’ will need quantitative insights in the form of data. More often than not the ideal approach will be a combination of both. 

Don’t view research as an expense

It’s an investment; a tool that will save time and money in the longer term. The cost of making decisions based on bad information and/or internally held opinions is far greater than the cost of some well executed research to help define the problem at the outset.  

So, to sum up. Yes, good research is well worth the time, money and effort. If planned carefully and executed well, it’s vital in shaping strategy,comms, and product, just to name a few product and whatever else. Make sure that you’ve planned it well so that it adds value to the overarching project and not used to confirm beliefs but to confirm a diagnoses. 

If your research confirms your diagnoses, great, you know you’re on a good path. If the research throws some doubt on the original diagnoses, great, you’ve just saved yourself from heading down a path that could end up costing a fortune. It’s easier to get to this point if you plan your research well.

Looking for more research tips? Take a look at three pointers to help guide you.