Research means different things to different people, but there’s a consensus on it being a process of enquiry and investigation; systematic and methodical, a contribution to knowledge. It’s essential for evidence-based decision making (“seat of the pants” decision making is so last century).
There’s still a role for intuition, in management in general and marketing and PR in particular, but even the best intuition needs to be supported by having a handle on the facts. Guessing or assuming may appear to save money but it can lead to costly mistakes.
For example, it’s simply no good speculating on how many High Net Worth individuals there might be in the UK, and where they are.
If you’re going to attempt to influence High Net Worth individuals for some reason, then what you need is a valid definition and some reasonably up to date, reasonably accurate figures relating to that definition. One definition of HNW is having assets over $1M, excluding the main home. Based on that definition – other definitions are available – are there under one million in the UK, or two million, or more? And is that individuals or households?
That kind of information is available through secondary (“desk”) research – examining already existing sources. And since 1998 when Google was founded, desk research has become easier in some ways – there’s much less blowing dust off files in libraries. On the other hand, the sheer volume of data, the complexity of isolating what is relevant – and interpreting it – means it has become more difficult.
Do you know who said, “More data was created in the last two years than the previous 5,000 years of humanity”? And when and where they said it? And is it anything like true or fair? Sometimes, even for desk research, you need to bring in a specialist who can find information for you – and who can interpret and leverage it with you.
Generally, the key steps in the research process are these:
- Deciding the overall issues of interest and the questions you want answers to
- Deciding what data you need to collect in order to answer those questions
- Deciding how you’re going to collect the data and how you’re going to analyse it, the “methodology”,
- Deciding what you’re going to do with the findings
In a PR agency, sometimes what you’re going to do with the findings is to use them in a new business pitch, and, when you’ve won the pitch, use more research to build a case to advise the client – and the actual results never go further than the client’s Boardroom. Sometimes, however, the results can become a key part of the content of a PR campaign.
At Change works, we’ve undertaken both quantitative and qualitative research amongst procurement directors and industry thought leaders… and workshop managers… and harbourmasters …and health and safety managers… and many other niche target groups. We’ve done it partly to help different clients understand their changing business environment and to assist their strategic decision making on price, and proposition development – and partly because it provides insights for the trade or financial press.
Specialist press journalists respond well to a press release detailing relevant facts and figures. Editors love provocative (but objectively obtained and analysed) insights into decision makers’ thoughts, feelings and behaviours. We also exploit research finding in social media, in corporate videos… and where ever else we find a space for informed content.
We don’t have the research budgets associated with big TV advertising campaigns and we don’t have an in-house research team. We have a well-established partnership with a management consultancy which specialises in obtaining, interpreting and leveraging information. AR Consulting helps us with research and strategy and is a company partner of the Market Research Society.
In one or two contexts we’ve found members of a board will tell our consultant things they won’t tell each other… or even themselves. But it’s not just the strictly P&C research that yields interesting, useful results.
There’s a tip we can share about research: don’t self-censor: say what, ideally, you need; irrespective of whether you believe it’s possible: you may be surprised.