I’m currently in the midst of a huge audience research project at my full-time job. An outside consultant and myself have developed 2 online surveys, analyzed our competitor’s products, and interviewed current customers, our competitor’s customers, and potential customers. We are currently in the final phase of the project. The next step will be to develop buyer personas and a messaging matrix. For those of you who may take on a project like this in the future, I wanted to share my strategies preparing for a research project of this scale.
Step 1: Develop and state your end goal
While many of us want to jump in to a project and get started right away, be careful of running wild. Before you start, what is the ultimate ending that you want to see? What are the results you want from this research? Having a goal in sight will keep your project focused and deliver the results you are looking for. My end goal is to develop messaging, and this influences every question I have asked my audience.
Step 2: Be flexible
While it’s important to keep focus from beginning to finish, it’s also just as important to allow for innovation. You never know what answer or data figure you may come across. It could be totally surprising to you the marketer, that a customer uses your product in a different way than you promote it. Budget some flexibility time in your project so that you can follow-up on any answer or statistic that surprises you. You may strike gold in a completely unintended way.
Step 3: Define your stages
A research project can take a very long time (mine is currently in its 10th month and will wrap up in December, then I present the findings in January) Many of us have to report to a senior leader. Senior leaders will sometimes use a ‘hands-off’ approach but require sporadic updates for large scale projects, such as audience research. Breaking out your research product into multiple stages shows progress and provides a metric to report how far along you are in the project. Stating “I’m in stage 3 of 5, is a lot more meaningful to an outsider than ‘we are doing phone interviews’.
Step 4: Write a whitepaper
You may have just read my last step and thought ‘How will they know what stage 3 is?’ Stay with me and keeping reading! As I said previously, many of us report to a senior leader. When doing a massive project such as audience research, there will be several key stakeholders. Many of these stakeholders will be woven in to various stages of the project. The best way to communicate your intentions, and to help get these key stakeholders to buy in that this audience research is needed, is to write a whitepaper to clearly spell out the following items
- The need for this project: What made you want to conduct this research? What data do you currently have to convince the key stakeholders the need for audience research? What data is available to show how you could improve your business with audience research?
- The plan for this project: Tell everyone who’s invested in this project what you plan to do and what you hope to accomplish. This is especially helpful when you need to get a colleague on board. Non-marketers don’t always understand the need for audience research and don’t believe it will translate into sales. State your purpose, and your plan, and then…
- What you plan to do with this audience research: Explain how you will incorporate it into the business. For my project, my plan is to develop buyer personas for marketing and a messaging matrix to help sales. Stating how a messaging matrix will be used by the sales force helps a sales representative understand how beneficial this project will be to their sales goals.
- The stages/timeline of the project: As I mentioned above, stages help convey progress better than ‘we are doing phone interviews this week’. Use stages as a reference to your stakeholders to show how much you have completed, and what else needs to be completed. Plan a meeting with PowerPoints if needed. Informing your stakeholders of the timeline helps manage expectations.
Step 5: Obtain feedback
Now that you have your whitepaper, send it to your stakeholders. An Editorial Associate may have a different expectation, or market knowledge that could be very beneficial to you in shaping survey or interview questions. Sales representatives may request that you send qualified leads from a certain demographic, which has the potential to show instant results of your work instead of waiting for an entire year to showcase your work. No matter what, having a new pair of eyes on a project you are very invested in will always provide different perspectives. Get them now before you are in stage 3 and have to redo a survey for the 3rd time.
Step 6: Prepare your timeline for updates
My project has encompassed almost an entire year of work. I wanted to show progress and something to my stakeholders, so I planned in advance when I would provide updates. This advanced planning kept my project on track, and helped set an expectation to my stakeholders that they can expect to see progress and results on these specific dates. So far, it’s kept all stakeholders engaged and excited for the results.
Do you have any additional recommendations when prepping audience research? Please tell me in the comments!