During times of great disruption in spending, buying, economics and behavior, insight research becomes especially crucial. The current pandemic — it goes without saying — is one of those moments. Companies are asking (more than ever) questions such as: How are customers now wanting to interact with brands? Why are consumers choosing to buy certain products over others? And how can brands position themselves to still be relevant when almost everything about daily life (work, school, shopping, socializing) has been disrupted?
If these questions have been circulating in your workplace, it’s probably time to do a deep-dive into consumer insight research. However, before you seek out market research companies, first ensure you’re prepared. The most successful insight-research projects happen when internal marketing, sales, and product teams go into the process equipped.
First, Know Your Audience Segments
Thorough insight research includes both qualitative and quantitative research. Qualitative research requires smaller sample sizes, segmented into personas. (Personas, or audience segments, are groups of people who share similar characteristics, such as age, hobbies, stages of life, job titles, etc.) For the purposes of research, your team doesn’t need to have fully-developed personas already written – the qualitative research will help define that – but you do need to have a general sense of who your audience segments are.
For example, if you’re a business-to-business (B2B) company, who are your target audiences? Usually it’s a mix – so don’t try to pool them all together. How do some of your products appeal to one segment over another? How is your marketing copy and media planning strategy aimed to capture a specific audience? Let’s say your company develops medical software. Your audience is not one homogenous group of medical providers. Likely, it’s the end-users of your software (medical office managers) as well as the IT department who procures software and hardware. Clearly their needs are different, which means the questions you ask and the insights you seek to pull out will need to be distinct.
Before working with consumer insights agencies, ensure you have developed defined audience segments — and be prepared to describe how they’re different — to help your insights team have a clearer idea of how to recruit and classify the segments they’ll be interviewing.
In product development and marketing there is a truism that you can’t be everything to everyone. So first, clearly delineate how your consumers are bucketed, and be prepared to show why you’ve segmented your customers the way you have – doing so will greatly speed up your research process, and it will help the insights company better craft and flush-out differences between your segments (and prove or disprove these differences over the course of the research project).
Understand There Are Limitations with Surveys
A second, very important, piece of knowledge to have before hiring an insights company is to understand that surveys have limitations. Oftentimes, companies assume that if they can just get a survey fielded, they’ll have checked off the consumer-insights box, and they will have done enough due-diligence to proceed. Though surveys do serve a purpose, they are one piece of the insights puzzle, but certainly not the full picture.
Comprehensive insights research should include a survey either at the beginning, or at the end of the process, depending on the goals of the project. Surveys can help to define and size characteristics of an audience (for example, demographic data) when done in the beginning of insights research, or, they can be used to validate themes learned in qualitative research. In this case, they are conducted after primary qualitative research (focus groups, in-depth interviews, mobile ethnographies, or UX research) has been conducted.
But surveys should not be the sole tool used in insights research.
Why? Quite simply, surveys are very limited in the insights they can produce. Surveys tell you how many and how much, but they don’t tell you why, how, the thought process, the limitations, the opportunities, use-case scenarios, mindsets, or potential improvements in a product or buying journey. Qualitative research accomplishes that – through interviewing, observation, and trained questions aimed to understand cognitive biases.
An additional limitation of surveys is the panel providers, particularly in the B2B field. It’s very difficult to get a legitimate, statistically significant-sized panel of B2B professionals to complete a survey. It’s simply too costly, time-consuming, and the vetting process is too complex to ensure the accuracy of the respondents and the responses.
However, in qualitative research, much smaller sample sizes can be used (provided they’re segmented properly – as detailed at the beginning of this article). Additionally, B2B professionals are compensated well for their time, and in an hour interview or two-hour focus group, a trained moderator can draw out transformative insights – with much more detail than a survey could illuminate.
Seek out Insights Companies Who Specialize in Your Product Field
Our final bit of advice when seeking out insights companies is to find a market research company that has experience in your product field. Are you a tech company? Find a company that specializes in the tech-industry. Are you a medical company? There are numerous insights firms that only do medical research.
Industry expertise becomes highly valuable, particularly in B2B research, so spend time asking potential insights-partners about the brands they’ve worked with, ask for case studies, and ask for client references.
To sum up, working with an insights company is essential during times like we’re experiencing, where there is so much upheaval and changes in patterns. With a little due-diligence upfront, you’ll be prepared to find the right partner for your project.