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Optimising the impact of primary research

September 10th, 2021 by Colin Buckingham



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#4 in our blog series on how to deliver a strategic insight programme

A structured guide to help insight and strategy professionals get maximum impact for their work and their organisation.

Glasses adjustment

Optimising the impact of primary research
At Rainmakers CSI, we help our clients decide on their next move. This series of blogs aims to set out the most important stages for developing and delivering a strategic insight programme. Here we look at how to get primary research right, to ensure your project is focused and leads to action.

Your brief has been honed, the deliverables have been defined and the landscaping phase has shown you what you know, what you don’t know and where you could go. Often the landscaping phase of a strategic insights programme is followed by primary research, but this step is not always necessary. Working with expert consultants will ensure you only invest your time and money in primary research when it’s really needed. In a world where it can often feel like we have too much data and not enough direction, here are our tips for knowing when you need to do additional primary research and how to get the best out of the process.

The reasons behind the research
When a client approaches us with a brief for a research project, we always dig into the motivations behind the research to find out if their suggested approach is the best way forward. It’s not unheard of for us to be asked to scope out a specific type of research only to find out that the request simply follows what has been done in the past and that it has been a while since the underlying data were updated.

We will also examine the markets the client is planning to research and may make a different recommendation based on their strategic aims and the data that already exist. Interrogating a brief to determine the commercial objectives is an essential step in any research project. For example, clients often plan to run major research programmes in their largest markets. That may be fine, but if some of those countries are likely to generate similar answers on the key questions, while smaller, fast growing markets could provide a different perspective on future opportunities, it’s time to reconsider the mix.

An experienced consultancy should interrogate your initial requests, and if necessary, recommend a more fitting solution that will generate the best results. Conducting research for research’s sake or researching markets or audiences that aren’t central to the objectives, is unlikely to gain valuable insights for your business or generate an ROI from the investment.

Look at the landscaping
Before getting started on a new study, as we discussed in our previous blog, it’s sensible to look at the information you’ve got already. After completing this review, it should be clear to see where more insights are required. For example, it might be that data are needed in a new set of markets, and primary research could be a way of developing your understanding of a specific area or group of customers. By looking at the data already available, you can figure out what information is missing, prioritise the new data that needs to be collected, determine research audiences, and allocate your budget accordingly.

Consider the scope
Once you’ve decided that new primary research is indeed required, you need to determine the type of work that is necessary. To do this successfully, it’s again important to be clear on the objectives. Agreeing the scope of the project earlier on means the details are easier to pin down and you can build a view as to whether you need to conduct exploratory qualitative research, which includes anything from simple telephone in-depth interviews to fully moderated co-creation workshops, or more robust quantitative research (or both!) to build a business case for your next move.

Regardless of methodology, before cracking on with research, it’s important to determine the right inputs. This means scoping the questionnaire or discussion guide so that relevant topics and questions are included from the offset. The content of a questionnaire or discussion guide should of course be driven by the commercial objectives of the study but agreeing the nuances of each topic’s subpoints early on will ultimately save time later.

Looking forward
By the time the questionnaire or discussion guide is signed off, you should already have a clear idea of how you’re going to analyse the data. The questionnaire and the data analysis are intrinsically connected, so when you’re conducting primary research, start at the end – begin with what you think you’re going to need to find out, and then make sure that the questionnaire is going to feed into that. If you don’t have a clear idea of what the evaluation of the data will look like, the questionnaire isn’t right.

Looking back
Conversely, when you come to analyse your data, you’ve got to have your initial hypotheses in mind. Approach the data openly and allow the hypotheses to stand or fall if the data are telling you a different story. Going into a study we’ve often had very clear hypotheses but seeing the data has caused us to tighten or amend the construct because we’re not seeing the results we expected.

We’ve also had cases where we thought we would need to look in detail at one particular audience, but the data show that another group are far more interesting to report on. You need to be able to adapt the story according to the evidence.

Time checks
By the time you get to primary research, you may well already have been through several stages of the project’s masterplan: the brief, defining deliverables and, where necessary, landscaping. Before you embark on the research, you need to regroup and recheck the deadlines. Realism is the key here. There will be situations where you need to move at lightning speed, shifting rapidly through any set up and landscaping phases and moving quickly into research and results. The principles outlined above are completely relevant, but they will need to be applied with great agility. However, don’t race ahead just for the sake of looking energetic. If you have the space and time to think, use them wisely. Agencies often feel pressure to prove their worth to their clients by working quickly and powering on with projects, but as a client you will reap the rewards in the long run if consultants take a minute to breath and regroup on your expectations so that they can deliver the best results.

Primary research can be essential for understanding consumers and gaining vital new insights to develop the right strategies and fuel growth. However, our advice is that if you are going to conduct new research, you must look back before you move forward. This will help you ensure your new study has the right design, investigates the appropriate audiences and markets, and generates insights that add to what you already know or could find out by more efficient means – maximising the ROI and impact of your work.



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