Listening to people: still relevant in a digital age?

When online survey tools are readily available and sometimes free,David Bain 09-0065LD-041 and when social media offers rapid qualitative and quantitative responses, it can be easy to dismiss traditional market research methods, such as depth interviews and focus groups, as out of date. In reality, both online and face-to-face (or telephone) methods have their place, but how do you choose the right methods for the right situation?

Our Research Manager, David Bain, has some thoughts to help you decide:

  • How much do you already know about the issue youre looking to research? If you want to conduct a customer satisfaction survey or find out what stakeholders think of your brand; have you ever researched these issues before? If not, then do you know what is important to your customers, partners, or employees? How will they evaluate your service, and how will they judge your brand?We usually suggest talking to a small number of stakeholders, in depth, right at the start, to get a feel for this, before developing questions for any survey research. This helps to ensure that a survey asks the right questions, in the right ways and therefore that it really does measure what it sets out tomeasure.
  • Who should we talk to? In research among organisations (rather than consumers), there is often a decision-making unit rather than a single decision-maker – therefore more than one person has an opinion that the researcher needs to know about and understand.When we consult secondary schools, for example, we are conscious that the job titles of staff who help students with their university applications vary from school to school. In some cases, talking to the Head of 6th Form has given us the insights we needed, in others we have held mini-groups with several teachers and careers advisors. Sending an emailed survey to heads of sixth form, however, simply would not have worked the response rate would have been low and there would have been no guarantee that the questionnaire would have reached the right respondents. The first rule in market research, therefore, is to ask the right people. Depending on your product or service, those people may or may not be easy to target through online panels, email lists or social media.
  • Reading between the lines: There is nothing like body language and the importance of what someone doesn’t say. Depth interviews and focus groups capture this and allow a skilled interviewer or moderator to qualify what is actually being said – or not said! For instance, in one recent Marketwise Strategies project, for an online information service, it was essential to be able to discuss in detail the potential content, functionality and pricing model for the service. Pricing, in particular, was complex and depended on the skill of the interviewer and their ability to probe and confirm participants answers (or lack of answers) as the discussion developed.
  • Serendipitous responses: Great ideas can come from discussion in an interview or focus group, that would not necessarily be encouraged by a multiple choice questionnaire. Sometimes we have presented product prototypes that were designed to be used in a certain way, then found that potential customers have responded with: “Okay, but have you thought about using it like this?” Research that proceeds too quickly to quantitative measures, rather than exploring the possibilities qualitatively, can miss opportunities.
  • Do they need to touch and feel the product? If you are researching a completely new product or service there is no substitute for being able to give someone a sample to turn over in their hands, or showing them a visual outline of the service model. We found this when talking to architects and engineers about a new type of recycled building material the range of comments that people were able to make about its weight and texture, from actually holding the material, would not have been possible if they were simply viewing images online.

If you have previously researched the same topic area, among the same group of stakeholders, and are clear that you now need, for example, to track customer satisfaction or brand awareness, then you might opt for a short, sharp online survey with a large number of respondents, that you can repeat annually. If, however, your needs are less clear cut, then we hope that the ideas above will help you to evaluate the options.

A general rule…

Think about the questions that you want to ask. If it is how often, how many, how much, how satisfied; then a survey might be just right. However, if you want to know why do our customers think this about us, or how do our customers behave, then you might get far more value by listening to what they have to say through qualitative, (often face to face or telephone) research.

Environmental Specialist Appointed

James Chapman has swapped his role as Editor at an environment-focused publisher for a newly created environment market research post at Marketwise Strategies.

James graduated with a BSc in Applied Biology and MSc in Environmental Consultancy. His sector experience includes an environmental Site Manager role in the Sudan, as well as commissioning and editing content at environment publisher, International Labmate.

I’m really enjoying getting immersed in such a wide variety of qualitative and quantitative projects, not just for energy and environment clients but also across some other parts of the business”, said James. “It is a good mix of work, it feels very rewarding when we are able to help clients shape their strategies and it is great to be part of such a friendly and constructive team.

Major Contract Wins in Higher Education

University libraryUniversity of Westminster has appointed Marketwise Strategies, in a partnership with Covent Garden-based Quadrant Consultants, to design and deliver a three year programme of research, across its UK and international markets. The contract is on a sole-supplier basis.

Jacquie Potts, Managing Director at Marketwise Strategies, said We are excited to be working with University of Westminster, and are looking forward to engaging with a range of different stakeholder groups. This contract emphasises our strength in higher education market research and our growing profile nationally in the sector.

Within weeks of this important contract win, Marketwise Strategies was also appointed to a new market research supplier framework at a university in central Scotland.

New Office Manager Joins Us

Liverpool University graduate Katie Searles has joined Marketwise Strategies as Office Manager, in a role that also encompasses project management across the business.

Katie graduated with a BA (Hons) in Politics and previously worked in the charity sector, supporting the delivery of projects in the UK and overseas.

Jacquie Potts said, When we recruit new staff, we always look for people with a hinterland as well as a strong ethical outlook. Often that means they have challenged themselves by working abroad, or have built a really interesting CV through voluntary work. Katie is an excellent example of that.

John Guides Community Research

As part of our continuing commitment to the not-for-profit sector, John Gibson photographDr. John Gibson (Senior Research Executive) is carrying out pro bono work via SkillsBridge, an organisation that links private sector professionals with third sector organisations.

Currently John is working with a community organisation that provides services for older people in the East End of Newcastle, including meals, laundry services and social spaces to meet and socialise.

Its great to be able to get involved in this way, said John. The SkillsBridge team are incredibly passionate about what they do and I am really pleased that we can work together on projects that will bring tangible benefits to our communities.