Building competitive advantage through marketing research

Marketing research is a great tool to facilitate more effective decisions.

Marketers need to have a curiosity about their market area and be inquisitive about the “what” and “why.” This curiosity can lead to data-driven decisions tempered with effective insight that result in effective decisions.

The base of effective marketing research is the marketing research process. The marketing research process that I typically follow is:

• Define the subject: A problem or opportunity that needs data to facilitate a decision. The more specific the subject, the better. Broad, poorly defined subjects generally provide little or no actionable data.

• Develop a research plan. What type of research is needed? Is it quantitative or qualitative? What is the time frame? How will the data be used to make a decision? Is it descriptive, exploratory or causal in nature? Is there a hypothesis to be tested?

• Collect and review secondary data, which already is available and can provide a base for the research.

• Collect primary data through focus groups, surveys, interviews, A/B tests and observations if the research plan calls for primary research.

• Analyze the data. Hypothesis testing, statistical analysis, summation of qualitative data, continue review of secondary data and format data for presentation. Formulate conclusions, recommendations and action plan.

• Present results to stakeholders. Present conclusions, recommendations and action plan to improve decision-making.

Watch out for bias during all steps of the marketing research process. Bias reduces the quality of the information and can reduce the effectiveness of marketing research. Bias can occur through sample selection, interpretation of results, research methodology and presentation to name just a few areas of concern.

There’s an old saying in marketing research that I have found to be very relevant. It is, “be very careful with the questions you ask because you will get an answer to your question, but the answer may have little relevance to your question.”

For example, when we were preparing a product to launch, we would ask key customers whether they would buy it. Most would say “yes.” But when we asked them to buy at launch, they would have multiple reasons on why they wouldn’t buy the product.

We asked the wrong question. We should have asked, “under what circumstances would you NOT buy the product at launch.” That question would have indicated the problems that we needed to address.

Self-selection bias is insidious. Customers who love you or hate you are more likely to respond than ones who don’t care or don’t know you. The problem is the ones who don’t care or don’t know are the ones I want to learn about. Watch out for self-selection bias.

Marketing research should be an on-going, vigilant and constantly improving business strategy. Learning about the market, customers, competitors and exploring opportunities can provide a base for competitive advantage.

Indeed, making more effective decisions based on reliable, valid and relevant marketing research can greatly aid the successful marketing journey.