Research is the most overlooked, unappreciated aspect of communication. I’ve heard people complain about the cost or how difficult it is to gather the data and make sense of the information. All of this is flawed. I’ve been responsible for research on various projects for almost 20 years, and can tell you that research doesn’t have to be difficult and can provide you with a plethora of details to ensure your strategies and tactics align and earn the great return on investment (ROI).
What is Research?
First, let’s talk about how to define research first. According to Wikipedia, research is defined as human activity based on intellectual application in the investigation of matter. What?! Let’s go a little more basic. My definition of research is asking questions of a particular audience group.This might be a bit narrow, but my frame of reference is marketing and communication. I want to know how a particular audience thinks. Research allows me to understand those thought processes so I can more effectively plan my marketing or communications program.
There are two main types of research — formal and informal. Formal research is scientific and can be easily replicated. Informal research is everything else. The key with informal research requires thoroughness, good notes and a method for gathering the material so it is usable for later reports.
Within formal and informal, there are primary and secondary research methods. Primary methods examine evident collected firsthand, whether that is through new interviews, surveys or observations. Secondary methods are just what it says, secondhand evidence which is previously reported or published. Typically secondary research is an Internet search or something similar.
The final aspect of research is qualitative or quantitative. Qualitative is that research which attempts to gather in-depth understanding of human behavior and the reasons why and how we make decisions. Typically, you’ll find much smaller, yet focused samples rather than large, random samples. On the other end of the spectrum is quantitative research, which develops and employs scientific or mathematical theories to analyze the connection between science and human relationships.
Why Conduct Research?
As I said earlier, research doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. It can be as simple as searching online articles or case studies that might help you establish a benchmark for how your organization should conduct business. Or it can be a complicated as hiring a consulting firm to develop and gather data on your behalf. Either way, many PR and marketing practitioners overlook the critical nature of research. From my experience, jumping into a project or campaign without a cursory look at the target audience and its’ thought process will only lead to failure and frustration.
In today’s recession environment, marketing and PR find themselves on the receiving end of budget cut after budget cut as a means to simply eliminate expenses for the business. But as we all know, this is not the time to disappear from the public’s eye. Organizations that have taken the time to conduct basic research know far more about where those marketing dollars will succeed as well as where they won’t and are able to build a far more effective business case for why marketing and PR should remain part of the company’s overall expense landscape.
So what do you think? Are you able to justify your marketing and PR efforts effectively or are you becoming quite proficient at using the expense scissors?