The Pragmatic Marketing Researcher

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the future of marketing research. As with any set of prognostications, there is no agreement about exactly what that future research looks like. However, there does seem to be a lot of agreement about what is wrong with marketing research today. Included in this list of woes are:

  • Declining response rates: Respondents simply do not want to complete surveys. Whether due to privacy concerns or just because they are too busy and don�t have time, getting respondents to actually complete surveys is more difficult than ever.

  • Increasing costs: With the introduction of panels, MROCs and online surveys, the cost per complete for marketing research has probably declined in the past decade. Nonetheless, budgets for marketing research are also shrinking as managers are increasingly asked to do more with less and less.

  • Decreasing time: As the rate of change increases, the time available for marketing decisions is also declining. Managers no longer have the luxury of six weeks to wait before making a decision, allowing them to do the proper marketing research.

However, marketing research does not have to be expensive, time-consuming or burdensome. It is important to evaluate the information needed in terms of the benefit or risk-reduction it offers. If a piece of information will save you $10,000, it doesn�t make sense to pay more than that for the information. If the risk associated with a decision is valued at $30,000, a $10,000 survey investment would make sense and if you have to make the decision next week, there may be time to do a very quick turn-around survey.

For example, a local plumber wanted to measure his customers� satisfaction with his service. After all, as a residential service provider, he can�t really count on repeat business from his customers, but he does want to make sure they would be willing to refer him to others. He has his customers� phone numbers and addresses, but finds they are reluctant to give him their email addresses. The solution? Interactive voice response. He incented his plumbers to encourage their customers to complete the short survey. (Note: the plumbers were not incented on the results, just on how many of their customers actually completed the survey.) Each plumber was given a stack of cards to leave behind with the toll-free number for the IVR survey. They also personally appealed to the customer to complete the survey. Finally, the survey call-in number was printed on the invoice that was left with the customer. When customers took the survey, they answered three simple questions, including whether they would refer the company to others. If so, they were offered an incentive for giving a referral to the company. Additionally, if they were dissatisfied, they were offered the option of asking the company to contact them to redress the situation. The data was immediately fed into an online reporting system which generated a monthly online scorecard. Daily �action reports� are issued for dissatisfied customers who need to be contacted immediately. Cost? About $500 per month. (Plus the $150 per quarter awarded to the plumber achieving the highest response from customers.)

Response rates to IVR surveys are usually very low, and this project was no exception. However, given the constraints faced by the company in terms of customer contact information, the information that was gathered paid for itself over and over again.�Now, this plumbing company�s advertisements boast of their 92% satisfaction rating, they can identify and save disgruntled customers, and they gather customer referrals and testimonials quickly and easily.

Good marketing research does not necessarily mean the strictest sampling, the most advanced analytics or the most detailed questionnaire. Good marketing research certainly doesn�t mean the most expensive! Good marketing research is simply delivering a cost-effective answer to a management question. Sometimes a pragmatic approach to research is just what�s needed.

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