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The Truth About the Research “Black Box”

Market research firms sometimes claim they have a unique, super accurate analysis tool housed in a mysterious “black box.”

That black box doesn’t exist.

Most research companies use the same approaches to data collection and analysis, whether it be multiple regression, discriminant analysis, conjoint, cluster analysis, MaxDiff or another one of the variety of analytic approaches.

Clearly, analytics is at the heart of effective research. But the success of a project depends as much on what happens at the beginning of the research process, as at the end; and this is what really separates one research firm from another.

Here, based on our experience conducting hundreds of research projects, are some issues and solutions to look for to get the greatest return on your research investment and make your research more actionable:

1.    The need to better understand the client’s business and industry

Understanding the goals and objectives of a research project is absolutely essential, but you can’t stop there.

If a firm conducts secondary research as part of the process it can learn more about:

  • Industry concerns and opportunities
  • How the client positions itself and its products/services
  • How competitors position themselves and their products/services
  • Corporate and product image among current and potential customers

These secondary issues can be researched online, but a growing source of this intelligence is “social listening.”

By monitoring relevant social media conversations, we can learn a lot about the industry, the client and competitors. This information; alone, helps get the research project headed in the right direction.

2.    Questionnaire design: The key to successful research

Researchers often focus on the technical aspects of market research, and rightfully so.

However, when research projects don’t succeed, it’s usually because the exact questions needed to get the exact information needed to make informed decisions are not asked.

Some common issues:

  • Not prioritizing the most important issues

In too many studies, questions are asked because they are “interesting.” Interesting doesn’t always mean useful. We often ask, “What exactly can you do with the results?” If there is no good answer it generally means it’s not a good question.

One way to prioritize issues is to make two lists. In one column note the top five problems, concerns, or important questions you need to answer within the next two years. Then, list very specific information needed to make each decision. Compare the priorities, selecting the most common, and you also have the questions you need to ask.

This is a simple, but effective approach.

  • Avoid the smorgasbord approach to market research

It’s common for researchers to deal with client teams, members of which often have different interests and concerns, many of whom want to see those concerns included in the research project. Too often, this results in asking a little about a lot, but not in enough about on any single topic to provide the answers you need to make accurate decisions.

It’s important to begin at the very start with the most important issues, cover them in enough depth and, if questionnaire time allows, start adding other topics.

3.    Consider, in advance, which analytical approaches may be used

As stated above, there are many analytic approaches available. Considering which one(s) you may use is not only vital to questionnaire design, it helps keep focus on the prime objective throughout the research process.

4.    Don’t settle for data dumps

Anyone can present numbers, and that’s what many presentations are.
Insist your presentations include specific findings, conclusions and recommendations as part of the report.

Remember, it’s not the numbers that count, but what they mean.

Anthony Casale
CEO, Integrated Marketing Services