Design Research with Results in Mind

Marketing research results should be relevant, useful, and actionable. Frequently, however, companies find results from a study they have commissioned either simply confirm what they already know, or are merely interesting and fail to generate information that can really be put to use. These situations could have benefited from a research design created with the desired deliverables in mind. Through a collaborative effort between sponsor and researcher, the shape and format of the report can be envisioned before the first data is collected.

Professor Alan Andreasen, in an article for the Harvard Business Review, advocated a �backward� approach based on the idea that the best way to design research is with the final report in mind. His procedure goes as follows:

  • Determine how the research results will be implemented

  • To ensure the implementation of the results, determine what the final report should contain and how it should look

  • Specify the analyses necessary to �fill in the blanks� in the research report

  • Determine the kind of data that must be assembled to carry out these analyses

  • Scan available sources of secondary data to see if what you are looking for already exists

  • If no such easy way out exists, design instruments and a sampling plan that will yield the data to fit the analyses you have to undertake

  • Carry out the field work, continually checking to see whether the data will meet your needs

  • Do the analysis, write the report, and watch it have its intended effect.

By starting off with a vision of what the final deliverables will include, the marketing researcher is able to align the entire program around how best to generate these results. The researcher can create a streamlined questionnaire leading towards the desired outcome, without wasting time asking questions about issues that will not help lead to actionable results. This technique also helps reduce costs for both researcher and sponsor, and leads to a more efficient and consistent experience for respondents.

Take for example an auto dealer that has commissioned a study on who is purchasing its products. Prior to fielding the survey, this dealership solicited feedbacks from its sales people and found that women more than men tend to prefer Car A. Without having considered the actionable items it would like to get out of the research, the dealership might structure its questionnaire on confirming or disproving this hypothesis. When the results come in and women are indeed more likely to prefer Car A than men, the company has a perfect example of interesting, but not necessarily actionable, results. The dealership is more knowledgeable about its customer base, but does not necessarily know what to do with this information.

Given the same situation, had the dealer and its researcher designed the research around actionable results, the survey could have included additional questions on the likely perspectives of women customers to various dealership aspects of the buying experience, to the financing experience, or to advertising and promotion techniques. The resulting report would not only give the dealership a better idea of what segments prefer particular cars but also would tell them how best to target these groups to get them into the dealership.

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