It is often difficult to establish a clear link between marketing research results and business outcomes, which frequently leads organizations to allocate smaller budget and staff to the market research function (if any) or just get rid of it. Among the reasons why this happens, we often find:
- Unclear research objectives.
- Misalignment of research objectives and business goals.
- Lack of a track system to monitor how investments in market research correlate with business results.
- Management’s little exposure to market research and lack of experience with how to use it.
- Poor execution of business and marketing strategies, despite accurate insights.
- Changes in the market driven by competitors’ actions that invalidate research results.
In order to understand market research’s ROI and connect it to the business impact it ought to have, we should:
- Establish a formal process that forces end-users of market research to think through what they want to achieve with the research. Steps in this process should include:
- Ask the end-user to narrow down the scope of the study by filling out a form with questions such as:
- What business problem triggered the need for the research?
- How will the research impact the overall business strategies for customer acquisition and retention? What is the priority?
- What decisions will be made based on the research?
- What hypotheses, if any, need to be tested?
- What type of information is expected to be gathered through the research?
- What recommendations for action are expected?
- Discuss with the research end-users how certain methodological issues such as sample source, sample size and analytical approach will impact the research outcome.
- Get the end-user involved in the design of the data collection instrument (surveys, focus groups/IDI discussion guide, secondary data source, etc.) that will be used to answer these questions.
- Lay out how the final report would look like, how the information will be presented and, once the data is in, provide a draft of the report to the end-user for review before final publication.
Although this step is designed for discussing specific research requests, the first point can also be used to identify the market research needs of different groups within an organization in order to craft an overall marketing research plan the organization should follow. This would help with project prioritization and resources allocation. Of course, the marketing research plan should be communicated to key stakeholders within the different groups in the organization, so they take ownership in the process and are open to use market research to advance the business.
- Create a distribution system to disseminate the research results. This could include:
- An electronic library of research reports where users can find current and past research (which would avoid duplication of efforts).
- Mini-workshops with key stakeholders of the research to discuss the research results and how they could be implemented.
- A newsletter providing distilled insights and a summary of research available with links to reports. Use the newsletter to also give visibility to the groups that have commissioned research, which elevates the status of market research within the organization
- Establish a feedback system to monitor how the research results are being used and what impact they have on the business. This system could include:
- Follow-up surveys, in-person or phone interviews with key stakeholders to track the decisions made based on the research.
- Track the amount of money spent on research and compare it with the business outcomes (sales, savings, retention, etc.) based on decisions guided by the research.
- Track key performance metrics using internal data (sales, operations, customer service, etc.) and analyze how they correlate with results from the research.
Connecting marketing research to business results is not easy, but it can done with the help of a systematic approach is adopted in order to get key stakeholders involved in the research process, share research insights and track their impact on the business.
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