Gain the Most Value from your Market Research

It would be hard to find a person who works in a business anywhere on this planet who doesn’t know what ROI means. From agribusiness to zoos, middle managers and VPs know they need to document a strong return on investment whenever they advocate for new expenditures, programs, or staffing to their c-suite.

Should ROI be the barometer for market research studies? Bruce Olson argues in the August issue of Survey Magazine that ROI misses the point and that the value of an insight is complicated and cannot be measured quantitatively. Olson recommends that researchers should focus on “one primary goal: to make an impact.” He states that the value of research is the degree to which a project affects or influences decision-making.

We have found this to be true with our own clients. When they engage in research with a clear idea of what they want to learn and how they will use that information to shape their decisions moving forward, their research studies have immediate and long-term impact. This may seem like an obvious piece of advice, but it doesn’t always happen. We’ve seen organizations struggle with undefined research goals, too many goals, irrelevant topics, poor sampling, biased questions, inappropriate methodology, and other research mistakes that can reduce the validity and potential impact of their research findings.

Ways to ensure impact.

There are four ways you can increase the likelihood that you will gain maximum impact from your market research investment:

One. Identify the key decisions that your organization will make in the next year or two and make sure your research goals address relevant topics. As an example, we worked with an adult education organization that was noticing changes in millennial students and enrollment levels. They identified their research goal as gaining data on what type of course configurations would positively impact enrollments. We tested numerous options and combinations, then conducted market simulations to give them very specific information that allowed staff to make programmatic and marketing changes with confidence.

Two.  Involve staff from various parts of your organization upfront in the planning process. It is especially important to have representation from staff who are closer to the customer than senior management or engineering. When planning a comprehensive market study for a large auto dealer, the president encouraged us to have a separate meeting with the sales team without management present. We definitely heard some differences that helped us better understand the real buyer experience and enabled us to design a more actionable study.Bringing in key departments in the planning of your research will also go a long way toward ensuring those teams are receptive to the findings and enthusiastic about implementing change.

Three.  Conduct your research in an open and honest environment. This is especially true for employee surveys. When staff trust that their feedback is anonymous and will be used for positive change, they will share their honest opinions. If you are surveying customers, make sure you follow up when appropriate by sharing a few key findings along with the changes you intend to make based on your results. With either internal or external audiences, don’t only share the data that makes your business or organization look good. Being open about areas for improvement will ensure your customers continue to take the time to participate in your surveys or interviews.

Four.  Share results out among your departments in a timely manner and provide the resources to follow through.  Make a commitment to share results throughout your organization and give staff time to generate action items, providing the resources they need to follow through. A large financial services company we work with conducts an annual study with customers and prospects in the early fall, then presents the relevant findings to all its sales and customer service teams toward the end of the year. It’s perfect timing and welcome input as they prepare their action plans for the next year.

Consider also sharing results with those important to your organization but not on your staff. We collaborated with a regional airport on a market study, and when we presented the findings, the airport director invited representatives from the airlines, TSA, retail vendors, and security to join airport staff. The subsequent discussions were key to the airport’s development of a new five-year strategic plan and solidified those important relationships.

Even if you undertake a project with your own staff, market research requires time and money. To gain the most value from your investment, start by planning how you will frame your research goals, involve different areas of your organization in designing the research tools, and most importantly, determine what processes will be used to digest the findings and develop action plans.

As football coach and teacher Mike Schmoker stated, “Things get done only if the data we gather can inform and inspire those in a position to make [a] difference.”

Contact Linda Kuster, President, to learn more about maximizing your investment in market research: or 319-364-7278, ext. 7104.