4 Great ‘Truths’ To Consider Before You Embark On Marketing Research

In his April 13 column, SLRG’s Jon Last provides a basic primer on four initial considerations that sports marketers should think about before conducting marketing research.

Those who know me best realize that I can often be pretty direct. So, let me begin this month’s post with a direct disclaimer that while I largely make my living conducting marketing research for brands involved in sports, I’m often one to suggest that a potential client not engage us for a particular study. That’s not to say that I don’t wholeheartedly embrace the myriad benefits of diving deeply into the mindset and behaviors of customers and other constituencies.

To the contrary, prior to starting my own firm, I led the marketing efforts of several sports-centric brands and properties with a strong belief that insights are at the center of the marketing process. But as our industry has evolved to a point where data and “opinion” are literally everywhere, it’s incumbent upon sports marketers to spend more than a passing glance in assessing the role of marketing research in their ultimate success, and choosing an appropriate course. Here, then are four critical initial considerations.

  1. How will you use “the lamp-post”: One of my favorite all-time quotes about research is the metaphor that research can be used like a lamp-post—for support or for illumination. Neither objective is inherently wrong, but it’s important to understand going into a study, what your ultimate goal is. Research of the “support” variety will often fall subject to greater scrutiny by external audiences. So, its incumbent that there be enough rigor and objectivity built into your design. Perhaps my favorite type of research combines both uses…in other words, it can measure and justify a hypothesis, but then add significant learning to it, thus helping enhance a strategy or tactical process, like demonstrating marketing ROI.
  2. Research is like transportation: My other favorite metaphor for a marketing research study, suggests that research can be a Rolls Royce or a skateboard….both get you from one place to another, but with varying degrees of comfort. The major cost drivers of most research studies revolve around the number of respondents that data is collected from and the amount of time and effort, spent with each. Couple those elements with the breadth of analytics to be performed and you’ve accounted for nearly all of the direct costs associated with a study. Sometimes you need the Rolls Royce and sometimes the skateboard will at least get you some valuable insight. It’s important to assess this prior to commissioning a study.
  3. Methdology “Shmethodology”: Somewhat related to my second point is the trap that many clients fall into when selecting a research partner or approach. Just like most categories, the research industry is not absent its own brand of marketing sizzle. A large part of that sizzle has manifested itself of late in research firms touting “unique and proprietary” methodologies, sample sources or analyses. A grizzled veteran like myself, applauds the resourceful marketing savvy around these pitches, but promptly dismisses 95% of them as window dressing on tried and true methodologies that most research pros can replicate. At the end of the day, excellent research is a combination of finding the right audience and extracting the right insights through thoughtful and careful observation, the design of experiments, appropriate probing or asking of “questions” and ultimately analyzing the resulting “data sets” in a rigorous, statistically mindful manner. The often overlooked final step, is then applying specific category or situational knowledge into an analysis from which actionable conclusions are drawn. I’ll gladly put a bow around this, but the best researchers cut through the sizzle and get to the steak.
  4. Fast, Cheap or GreatPick Two: This is another one of those long-in-the-tooth research industry adages. But today, particularly with the growth of do-it-yourself research tools, it takes on even greater significance. Good research is a combination of art and science. Just as athletes train and hone their craft to reach the big leagues, marketing research professionals go through significant study and training to learn how to write and properly order good, unbiased survey questions, to understand how statistical analyses can separate directional from real findings and to deploy a process that, done correctly, avoids biased responses and non-representative audiences that can skew results. Sometimes fast and cheap is better than nothing at all, but often it can subscribe to the garbage in and garbage out cliché. Just as one wouldn’t rely solely on Web MD to self diagnose and treat a debilitating illness, if you are looking for “great” to be part of your research initiative, you are best served to enlist the consult of a professional.