Research Methods

Lisa Dezzutti, President & Founder, Market Connections

How does your company or brand stack against your competitors? This is an important question to answer as you introduce new solutions or compete on new (or even existing) contracts. It’s also important to know if perceptions have changed over time, and if the way you communicate about your products, services and company represent the perceptions you want clients and prospects to have.

In a few weeks, Market Connections will host a free webinar about market perceptions and company positioning. We thought we’d give you a sneak preview of what Market Connections, Inc. President and CEO Lisa Dezzutti will discuss in the webinar.

market perceptionMC: What is more important for a company — having a well-known name or well-known product or service?

Lisa: Prospects need to know who you are – your name needs to be top of mind in order for you to make their short list. And while that recognition is definitely important, it’s not the whole picture. They also have to understand what you do. I see many companies that are not focused on that piece, but it is so important.

For example, we have a client in the government space that has a very well known commercial name. While their name recognition is high, they weren’t getting any traction in the defense community around a particular solution area. We did a market perception study and found that within the Department of Defense, very few of their prospects thought of them for that particular solution area at all. Their defense target audience knew and respected the name and thought of them for other things. But for this particular solution, they weren’t on anybody’s short list. They weren’t even being asked to the party. That’s why they weren’t getting any traction.

By doing that market perception study, we helped them understand who the defense community thought of first for that type of solution, who was on the short list and why. With that data, they were able to craft communications messages to change the perception and make inroads.

To me, that is as — if not in some cases more — important than measuring brand awareness.

MC: Does that mean companies should not focus on overall brand awareness?

Lisa: No, not at all. Both are important.

I look at it as a continuum. Name recognition is at the far left side of the continuum, and a company starts there and moves right toward market perceptions regarding specific products or services. Your customers need to know who you are, and that starts with recognizing your name. They also need to have a positive perception of your company. But for them to consider working with you, you have to build your market understanding from the broadest offering all the way to very specific things.

If they don’t know who you are, you’re certainly going to have a tough time selling anything to them. Then if they know who you are, but they don’t understand what you do, you’re still going to have a tough time getting any traction. Not that you won’t, but the sales cycle is a lot harder and a lot longer.

MC: Does a company need to worry about market perceptions with long-term customers?

Lisa: I think so. The reality is that regardless of what industry you’re in, customers will pigeonhole you. Whatever work you’ve done for your customer is what they will think of you for. Just because they’re your customers, do not assume that they know everything you can bring to the table. Companies need to work on increasing brand understanding and engagement with existing customers – moving them along that brand continuum.

MC: If a company wants to learn about how they’re perceived in a specific situation, what should they do? 

Lisa: It’s not always necessary to do a full-scale market assessment. We often recommend micro studies where we look at a very specific market segment or particular opportunity. If you can understand how the audience in those situations perceives you and your competitors, you are better able to position your company to penetrate that segment or win a particular opportunity.

MC: What else do you recommend?

Lisa: Often with a market perception study, we’ll also do a spending analysis to see what competitors are spending on their marketing in a particular area. That helps our clients make the case for making marketing investments more consistently in order to build a differentiated market position relative to competitors.

For our clients who are satisfied with their overall market perception, they may focus on specific solutions areas, and develop tactical campaigns around areas where they want to influence and elevate perceptions. In those cases, they may develop thought leadership pieces to establish their expertise.

A market perception study is often a launching point for building out a strategic and results-focused marketing plan.

BEST PRACTICES WEBINAR: Using Research to Assess Market Perceptions and Company Positioning

Join us and learn the importance of taking a baseline of how your organization is perceived and tracking changes in awareness, consideration and preferences to gain an edge over your competitors and build stronger relationships with your customers.

Date: Wednesday, April 5, 11:30 AM EDT

Register Now

Understanding how your customers perceive your brand as a whole — and your brand value — is an important component of developing strong customer relationships. However, as customers look for specialized expertise to meet their needs, companies must distinguish divisions and sectors from the competition through niche marketing.

While many companies know they need brand research at the corporate level, we have found tremendous benefit in doing brand research at the division or the business-unit level in order to meet this trend of niche marketing. It makes sense when you think of each division or business unit as a separate company.

As an example, one of our clients primarily works in the defense market and their corporate brand reflects that. But they have a division focusing on systems integration—something they sell outside of defense.

They were having difficulty gaining traction in civilian markets, so they conducted division brand research. The result was concrete information to position and message against the right competitors. It also helped them understand the real needs, requirements, and expectations of their buyers. Finally, it helped them develop the right win themes so they could keep those must-retain contracts and succeed with must-win opportunities.

Brand research at the division or business-unit level is similar to corporate brand research. The difference is it is laser focused on a subset of the overall business. It will answer questions such as:

  • Is what your division offers understood and accepted in the marketplace?
  • What is your reputation among key targets and has this changed over time (or with the merger/acquisition)?
  • Is the market aware of the capabilities and service/products you offer?
  • For the products and services this division offers, which qualities or characteristics are important to your customers?
  • How are you perceived relative to your competitors regarding specific qualities such as technical expertise or thought leadership?
  • Are you in the customer’s consideration set for specific capabilities or service/product offerings?

Without a current and fact-based understanding of brand perceptions in the market, the risk of delivering a message that is not tailored to the specific audience is higher. Division brand research minimizes that risk and helps you leverage everything your divisions offer.

Rosita and journey mapping

Dr. Rosita Thomas

When Dr. Rosita Thomas joined the Market Connections research team, she brought her vast experience with journey mapping to our range of offered services. What is journey mapping and why is it important? Notably, how can it help you with your marketing efforts? We sat down with Rosita to get some insights.

journey mappingMC: First, what is journey mapping?

Rosita: In essence, it’s a way for businesses to see exactly where and when they have the best opportunity to leverage their capabilities to impact customer decisions. We use a qualitative research methodology to map their process — or journey. We start by recruiting our target population for interviews, whether they are patients, purchasers of technology products, or consumers of any kind. We conduct one-on-one interviews by phone, or using web-assisted technology. We ask them detailed questions about every stage of their process.

For example, at each stage we would ask our respondents about the emotions they experience, the people and experts they talk to, whether they look for information and, if so, where. At each stage, we ask them about what works, what doesn’t work, and what is missing. Because we are asking respondents to recall and talk about very detailed aspects of their journey, we sometimes start off with an online questionnaire. The questions are primarily open-ended, which allows the respondent to use their own words. Their choice of vocabulary provides us with additional insights.

Next, we analyze the respondent’s answers and devise a follow-up interview guide to fill in any gaps. For example, if I see a patient visited five different health professionals before they got a diagnosis, I will ask them more about that process. Was it typical? Frustrating? I will ask them about the emotions they were feeling when they received the initial diagnosis. What questions did they ask the provider? What questions were unanswered? What advice would they give the provider about their approach?

By asking such detailed questions, we are taking a magnifying glass and looking for places along the respondent’s journey that might provide opportunities for our clients to connect with that population. It helps our clients learn what they need to do and when to do it — to identify those key stages of the customer or patient journey. Mapping also benefits customers, because it highlights their unmet needs.

MC: Can you give us a patient journey example?

Rosita: Sure. A pharmaceutical company was having difficulty unearthing the barriers that prevented patients from starting their prescribed medication promptly at the onset of symptom awareness approached us to find out why. The company wanted to develop a new marketing campaign targeted at changing that behavior. The primary question they brought to us: what unmet clinical, informational, financial, and emotional needs will help us increase patient compliance?

In this example, we discovered that a person with symptom X typically waited three to six months after noticing the symptom before seeing a doctor. That extended wait time negatively impacted their condition. We recommended the pharmaceutical company reach patients much earlier and communicate the importance of seeing a doctor immediately after becoming aware of the symptom. We also recommended the pharmaceutical company provide action-oriented informational materials to healthcare providers so they would begin to routinely talk with at-risk patients about how to recognize symptom X, in addition to asking whether they are experiencing it.

The outcome of this research was the pharmaceutical company was able to get the word out effectively to patients and healthcare providers. Patients sought treatment more quickly and their time to recovery was dramatically reduced.

MC: What’s unique about this type of research?

Rosita: In addition to its ability to reveal important details, it has some really neat and different features. With journey mapping, we can use online dashboards. The respondent can actually see a graphic depiction of their personal journey and modify it so it presents a true timeline of their journey. Usually we conduct 20 to 40 patient journeys (we determine the number based on the study objectives). As we compare and analyze the journeys we begin to see patterns. We might also see some “Aha!” moments where at a particular point in the patient journey there is an especially amazing opportunity for our client to have an impact.

MC: Can journey mapping be used in any industry?

Rosita: Definitely. While journey mapping is very common in the healthcare industry, it’s use is applicable to any industry. We now have access to technologies making personalized messaging possible. But to really do that, we need to have a granular, detailed understanding of how people are making decisions and find out about their experiences at every step of the process. This helps us identify the leverage points of influence for our client — when and where to provide information, what information to provide, and how to best communicate that information.

MC: What are some examples of how other industries could use journey mapping?

Rosita: Two examples immediately come to mind: government contractors and associations.

For example, we could map the journey government decision-makers go through in selecting a technology provider. The government contractors I have worked with understand the challenges that government decision-makers face — the long contracting process, limited budgets, LPTA; there are so many hurdles to pass through. Because of the granular level of exploration used in journey mapping, this research tool can help a contractor uncover and understand what specific actions/non-actions impact their customers’ purchasing decision process, and how the contracting company can best position itself and its assets so it clearly speaks to the customers’ unmet needs. At the same time, it can position a company to differentiate itself as the one most capable of addressing those needs.

Journey mapping draws attention to the leverage points along the government technology purchaser’s journey. It identifies the points the contractor can best get a step up on connecting with a government decision maker’s unmet needs. That is powerful.

We can also use journey mapping to help associations. Associations are always working to better understand how to retain and increase their membership. It would be interesting to see journey mapping of those who recently made the decision to join the association, renew or upgrade their membership, or, who recently made the decision to leave the association. Journey mapping would pinpoint exactly what prompted a current or prospective member to make their decision to change their membership status. This granular data we pull from the member journeys allow us to provide the association with very clear-cut, actionable recommendations about how to retain members and reduce attrition.

MC: How long would a normal journey mapping project take? This sounds like something that could be pretty in-depth?

Rosita: Generally, it’s about 12- to 15-weeks, depending on the number of interviews conducted. It’s a very elaborate and labor intensive process. Once the data is analyzed and the findings are written up, we have an immersion session with all of the client’s key internal stakeholders and some of their external stakeholders if they wish (such as their advertising team). We review the unmet needs of the patient or customer and then our team communicates our consensus on how best to leverage identified opportunities.

MC: Any other thoughts?

Rosita: Journey mapping is a powerful tool in the marketing toolbox. I’ve seen clients use it to dramatically change how they interact with their customers, providing better service and setting themselves apart from their competitors.

Learn more about Market Connection’s journey mapping research.

Super bowl Sunday… many of us at Market Connections cannot wait for the ads. That’s because the ads are creative and funny, and focused on resonating with this large audience.

With Super Bowl ads costing millions of dollars, ensuring the ad hits the mark is important. That’s why we believe ad and message testing should be a key part of the creative process.

We had the opportunity to test a Superbowl ad for a key commercial client, and had a great time being part of the process. While the ad was a little different (and more light-hearted) than the subject matter we usually work with, the methodology was the same when we test ads and messaging for any of our clients, whether they place local print ads or national television ads.

That is because the purpose is the same: to ensure the message you want resonates with your audience. In the case of the Super Bowl ad we tested, the client wanted to ensure the humor would be, well, humorous. What is the process? Our resident qualitative research expert, Dave Glantz, shares:

When in the process should a company start testing an ad?

Dave: It needs to be far enough in advance to allow for proper evaluation and have time to make changes and refine the ad if necessary. How long that is really depends on the ad you’re running, production time, and the media properties. With the understanding that lead times can vary, our clients usually test six to eight weeks before the campaign launch.

What does ad testing usually encompass?

Dave: The best method of testing is through focus groups, where the target audience views and comments on the ad. In the focus group, we pay special attention to the ad’s overall appeal, tone, content, credibility, meaningfulness, relevance, terminology, and visual qualities/design. For video/TV ads, we may also explore other factors such as narration, background music, the actors themselves, and other production values. Ultimately, we want to understand how well the ad resonates with the target audience, and identify any areas that may be off-putting to the audience and how these might be addressed.

What is your advice around testing not just for message, but for humor?

Dave: Depending on what the client is advertising, humor can certainly add to an ad’s appeal. But humor can be difficult—what is funny to one person may be offensive to another.

A focus group setting will reveal instant and spontaneous reactions to the ad. And beyond any possible laughter, the audience’s facial expressions and body language can communicate any additional positive and negative feelings the moderator can then probe on. For these reasons, it is beneficial for all client stakeholders to observe the group’s reactions first-hand.

We recommend at least two focus groups per audience segment to act as a confirmation that the humor will be perceived as humorous (or at least not offensive) to the audience. Moreover, given that humor — or offensiveness — is in the eye of the beholder. Another important and sensitive consideration, particularly for ads intended for a nationwide consumer audience, is to ensure the participant composition in the focus group room broadly reflects the racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity of the audience at large.

Join Our Webinar on Ad and Message Testing

This coming Wednesday, February 8, 2017, Dave is leading the next in our Best Practices webinar series: “Using Research to Successfully Introduce New Products, Services, and Campaigns.” You will learn more about how you can use ad testing to help improve your ROI. Register now for this complimentary webinar.

Just for fun: Get a preview of other 2017 Super bowl ads. Entrepreneur Magazine rounded up the best of them. Which ones are your favorites?

Is a hunch a good enough reason to enter a new market or develop a new product? It is certainly a good place to start. But while there are examples of companies that have enjoyed wild success from launching a new offering because their gut told them it was right, that is not the norm. Often the opposite happens: a company feels it makes sense to enter a new market, or they know their clients really need a new product, so they spend millions of dollars developing the offering, only to have it fail.

That doesn’t need to happen. Market assessment research or product research can save a company millions of dollars by letting them know if they should pull the plug on an idea, make some adjustments to the plan, or go full steam ahead with the original idea.

Whether ensuring the marketplace is ready or a new product is something prospects will buy, savvy corporations invest in making sure their actions resonate with decision makers. They don’t rely on hunches. Rather, they prove the hunch is right before investing resources.

Market Opportunity Assessment

A market needs assessment will help you determine if, where, and with whom there truly is long-term growth potential for one or more of your products or services. These studies help our clients determine whether to keep, eliminate, or enhance their offerings by providing a profile of selected markets, specific target audiences that offer the strongest potential for success, the market needs within the framework of the offering and characteristics and features of the offering that resonate the strongest in the market.

Real World Example

We worked with a Fortune 20 technology company that wanted to expand into a new market: social service agencies. This was not an environment they worked in, so they commissioned a market assessment to understand the challenges social service agencies around the world face in meeting agency goals and to learn key capabilities in which agencies were investing. Their ultimate goal was to understand if this market would outsource IT solutions to meet these challenges.

The market assessment results indicated there were opportunities they could map to agency priorities. The results also identified which countries were most receptive, therefore where to focus on in the short, medium, and long‐term. Eliminating the guesswork helped the company successfully enter a new market.

New Product & Service Testing

This research provides the data necessary to support new product decisions and/or to better understand the market structure and competitive landscape. It helps you:

  • Determine strengths and weaknesses of the product or service with a “real-world” test
  • Assess the offering’s viability and likelihood of ultimate success
  • Refine the offering for maximum market appeal
  • Create promotional messaging for the launch that will best resonate with prospects

 Real World Example

When one of our commercial clients was planning a full-scale introduction of a new online information database, they wanted to ensure there would be a good ROI before investing the resources to market such a tool. We conducted focus groups with customers and prospects in the client’s target market in each of eight different geographies across the country. During these focus groups, we demonstrated the new web-based product.

We discovered that while the audience responded well to the tool, it needed a few modifications to highlight the features most important to the audience. The research also identified some features the audience found relatively unimportant, allowing the company to pull the plug on developing those features that were considered too labor-intensive to launch and/or use, saving the company substantial investment dollars.

The bottom line: When millions of dollars are on the line, don’t trust your gut.

With prospects and customers convened in a central location, conducting research at such conferences reduces normal recruitment, facility rental, and transportation costs typically associated with a focus group study. However, to keep costs down and also maximize the success of the on-site focus group, we always advise clients up-front that it’s important they commit internal resources to support some of the planning and execution.

As Market Connections recruits participants, develops the discussion guide, and manages other research-specific tasks, we guide our clients on the execution of:

  • Scheduling options for maximizing attendance
  • Room location and seating configuration
  • Wording and timing of announcements and reminders prior to and during the event
  • Arrangements for recording the sessions
  • Signage/directions to the room
  • Refreshments for participants

Active assistance by clients is critical to ensuring participants perceive the focus group as a primary conference goal of the organization rather than an after-thought. In fact, we even encourage clients to schedule representatives to direct participants to the focus group room.

After providing the man power and time to help execute the focus group, clients are very eager to observe the actual session. However, this is not a good idea. In order for participants to feel free to speak openly and honestly, it’s important the sponsor of the research not be present. Of course, at a professional research facility, the client representatives can observe behind the one-way mirror. But, such a set up is often not available at conference facilities. Unfortunately, that’s the compromise clients must make when opting to leverage the cost savings of holding focus groups at conference events. However, clients benefit from a more open and productive discussion free of the bias than may result if the sponsor is present in the room.

Sharing the Cost of Research

Depending on the size of your organization, there may be other departments that need information similar to what you plan to gather. Similarly, you may have strategic partners or resellers who would be interested in sharing the research cost and results.

For example, we recently concluded a research study for a large IT company that was funded by four independent divisions. The study met each division’s information objectives at a more affordable price for each. Equally important, the collaborative process of developing the survey and reviewing the findings facilitated a broader understanding of each division’s market circumstances and sparked ideas for synergistic marketing programs between them.

Market Connections has also worked with a number of companies that have partnered with non-competing partners or VARs on co-branded research studies. This has enabled each participant to conduct a large quantitative study at a lower investment level.

Marketing the Research Results

Many companies leverage research studies to position themselves as thought leaders in the market. They utilize key findings to secure press coverage as well as build content for white papers, webinars, road shows, and web sites. You could do the same. But remember, the primary objective of your research should be business intelligence, not marketing fuel. Avoid filtering or twisting the results to support a particular position or selling point, as that will be transparent and you’ll quickly lose credibility. Equally important, using a professional research firm to conduct the study helps assure the audience that the results are valid and unbiased.

Planning Ahead for Success

Careful upfront planning of the research project is required when conducting it with other entities or when you intend to use the results in marketing programs. Your research firm will help you structure the study to explore areas in which your audience would be particularly interested. They’ll also help you determine in the analysis what information should be held close to the chest versus what can be repackaged for marketing and PR. With joint research projects, the experts will structure the study to ensure the primary focus is germane to all parties, while customizing some questions or section to address the needs of each. Again – leave this to the experts, or you’ll be at high risk of creating a survey instrument that is too long and confusing for the respondents to answer.

To secure participation and to elicit candid answers, it’s important for market researchers to assure respondents upfront that both their anonymity and confidentiality will be protected in the survey analysis and reporting. And, if respondents aren’t clear on the difference between anonymity and confidentiality, researchers should clearly explain it. Furthermore, when professional researchers conduct online surveys, many use software packages with features that protect anonymity as responses are downloaded for the analysis phase. This too should be communicated upfront when recruiting participants.

Even when anonymity and confidentiality are conveyed upfront, some people may still decline participation altogether, or refuse to answer certain questions. For example, employees may fear that their identities can be determined by the way they answer certain demographic questions, such as the department in which they work. Unquestionably, using a third-party professional research firm to administer the survey provides stronger assurance that anonymity and confidentiality will be respected and protected.

In some cases, such as certain satisfaction surveys, it may be necessary for respondents’ identities to be linked to their responses. For example, when a federal systems integrator conducts a contract satisfaction survey, senior management will likely want to know specific customer identities in order to more effectively implement needed corrective actions. In these cases, it’s critical that researchers state this upfront and give respondents the opportunity to opt out of participation.

Following these practices helps to build the trust and respect of research respondents, resulting in higher completion rates, better data quality, and the increased likelihood that they’ll participate in future surveys.

However, fielding phone surveys and analyzing the results typically takes more time than others methods, and that typically results in a higher project cost and a longer completion schedule.

Conversely, in many markets, online surveys offer a significantly faster turnaround, which usually translates to a significantly lower cost. However, even with access to respondent panels, it’s much more difficult to achieve a truly random sample. For example, it is significantly more difficult to gather sufficient email addresses for a truly random sample of government employees than it is for consumers or commercial-sector employees. Furthermore, respondents may have a stronger tendency to rush through the survey in order to get the incentive, which means they may not carefully read and understand some questions or give careful thought to their answers. Both issues can raise concerns about the accuracy and quality of the data.

When helping clients decide between the two approaches, we assess numerous factors, including how long they can wait for the results, the research objectives, the complexity and nature of the desired data, the target audience, availability of appropriate panels or email address lists, budget considerations, and so forth. With further study, we can also help them assess the potential response and accuracy rates of both approaches. In fact, in some circumstances, we recommend a hybrid approach that incorporates both the phone and online methods in order to achieve the response rate that’s high enough to represent the market as a whole.

Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to research. Therefore, the best way to determine how to collect the market intelligence you need is to engage an experienced market research provider who will work with you to build the most appropriate methodology based on your target audience, research objectives, budget, and timeline.

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