In the ivory towers of our business schools we learned that when times get tough, investments in advertising, product development and marketing research always pay off handsomely in the long run. Unfortunately, we live in a very impatient and unforgiving real world where “long term” can mean six months or less.
All of our clients are struggling with the demand to do far more with far less across the board. The areas of qualitative research, concept development and innovation are no exception. But the good news is that there strategies for doing so successfully without sacrificing quality.
Quality is the key word here. There will always be a direct correlation between research ROI with the quality of the partners you choose and the process you plan together. Moderating skills are critical, of course, but really just the cost of entry. The real value is in the researcher’s ability to quickly grasp the higher order values and bring them down to earth in clearly communicated, realistic, actionable recommendations.
Providing a structure to manage the back room at focus groups is equally important as running things smoothly in the front room. Thought leadership and supporting efforts to build understanding and consensus among key internal stakeholders are just as valuable as any sorting exercise or projective technique.
Project scope needs to be well managed as well. Many projects – and I would wager most from the big research companies – are exercises in self-indulgence and overkill. I have seen relatively simple positioning projects that included more than 20 in-home interviews spread over three markets, eight focus groups and an Online Bulletin Board with an “expert panel.” All this and the only deliverable was the identification of highly academic “higher order values.”
These types of heady, quasi-intellectual discussions are certainly fascinating, but this kind of excessive waste and ephemeral work is inexcusable. Our job is to recommend the right number of groups or interviews required to fully understand the brand and category dynamics, and then to provide specific, tangible, realistic, actionable next steps for clients to move their businesses forward.
With the right people and the right planning, it’s amazing what can be accomplished in as little as four to six groups.