Research That Grabs Headlines16 years ago
Organisations can reduce risk and build loyalty through market intelligence. Dennis de Cala writes on making market research pay off.
Really effective communications has tangible and lasting benefits for business, including reducing the risks that companies have to take to stay ahead of the competition. Textbook communicators that constantly hit the mark with innovative public relations and targeted messages put part of their success down to detailed intelligence on the market.
They know their market inside out: its structure and its trends, the behaviour and preferences of customers and prospects, and how to influence consumer groups, intermediaries and other stakeholders.
The more you know about your market as a business, the more able you will be to tune your communications, and develop and deliver products that will be eagerly greeted by the target market.
Well-designed market research focused on business objectives produces insights that allow companies to leap ahead of the market. What’s more, it generates kudos for the PR or marketing executive with the foresight to invest in it.
Market research raises the profile of an organisation by generating eye-catching headlines, and acting as a platform for thought-provoking debate, direct response and sales initiatives.
Reducing Strategic Risk
Market research also reduces strategic risk by enabling companies to find the best possible branding and communication strategy, evaluate perceptions, test programmes and materials and measure their effectiveness. In new product development, it ensures the right products and services are brought to the right markets, helping to identify opportunities, test and refine new propositions. Good research can build and retain the loyalty of customers, turning them into advocates for the brand.
Communications professionals can take any or all of these aspects of market research and turn them into creative public relations campaigns, but undoubtedly the most common objective for PR-related market research is raising the profile of a company or organisation.
Just a handful of carefully-crafted questions can generate surprising, pithy, apposite or plain titillating snippets of newsworthy material to link to your brand and gain those valuable column inches and airtime.
Cheap and (where appropriate) cheerful, low cost headline-generating research can be credible and produce strategically useful insights. However, professional design and a careful choice of survey methodology, whether online panel, telephone or face to face, will have significant benefits. The research will be more credible, improving exposure for the headlines and the message, and it takes just a few demographic filters and attitude questions to create research that has more depth and is more useful to the business.
In business-to-business markets particularly, research may be used to generate reports for distribution to professional audiences, which can be very effective in demonstrating an organisation’s understanding of changing market conditions, of contentious issues, or of an emerging technology.
The research process and the distribution of reports, including direct feedback to prospective clients, can also be a platform for invitations to events such as seminars and to open the door for new business enquiries. Further, it is an opportunity to gather important information about the current concerns and future plans of decision-makers in hard-to-reach segments of the market: intelligence which feeds directly into the market development plans of the commissioning organisation.
Getting It Right
The importance of getting the message and the materials right cannot be stressed enough. Get it wrong – because it is not relevant, elicits an undesired response or it is sent through the wrong channels – and a significant part of your market will miss the message.
A range of research techniques can be used, from a couple of focus groups to an international programme involving a mix of survey techniques including focus groups, online testing and telephone methods, and programmes can be devised to suit most budgets.
Investment in research to define and refine the content and presentation of marketing communications will not be wasted. The successful development of products and services in a fast-moving market, for instance, depends on up-to-date insights into consumers’ needs and perceptions.
Market research can be used to measure the potential size of the market, to test propositions, to evaluate the key messages and the perceived relevance of the brand. This is an area where the combination of research and communications skills is particularly effective, and has the potential to have a profound effect on the development of an organisation’s approach to its market.
Building Customer Loyalty
Research can also build customer loyalty by identifying the values associated with a brand and measuring its competitive profile in the market. The performance of a brand and its values, as experienced by the client or consumer, can be measured and linked to expressed levels of commitment.
The outcome is that communications teams and business leaders can identify precisely which brand values and performance factors drive customer loyalty. Communications strategies can therefore be directed towards building loyalty and encouraging customers to become that most valuable of commodities, the loyal advocate.
This makes for a sound investment – it is said to cost six times as much to attract a new customer than it does to keep an existing one. Furthermore, the data from a brand values and loyalty survey can provide a rich source of good-news headlines: what company wouldn’t want to be able to say with certainty that they are in the top 10% in the sector for customer satisfaction?
Dennis de Cala, Head of Market Research and Consultation (London), Mott MacDonald Limitedmail the author
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