Of the many elements that go into creating a successful marketing campaign, the qualitative research aspect is often rushed—and, worse yet, sometimes ignored altogether. Marketers that conduct proper qualitative research know that a true understanding of their customers' motivations and behavior is often the "secret sauce" that makes a campaign work. Therefore, proper time and attention to the discipline is a good idea for advertisers and their agencies.
One common mistake is rushing through the process of finding a qualitative research partner. Too often, marketers are overly reliant on quick Internet searches or unqualified or mismatched referrals from colleagues. And often, the process itself is rushed and frequently relegated to junior staff with little or no guidance.
Identifying an individual or firm who will uncover deep-seated consumer truths is too important to treat lightly. The first step is to build in a reasonable timeline to find a partner and conduct qualitative research before building plans and executing creative—give it the time it deserves.
Also, be sure to refine and clarify what you want out of your research efforts. Go deeper than "finding out what our customers are thinking about us." Your research partner can guide you in the process. A great source is the "find a researcher" button on www.qrca.org, our Web site of nearly 1,000 Qualitative Research Consultants Association members.
Following its own advice on conducting proper research, the QRCA recently conducted a survey called "How Qualitative Research Buyers Choose a Supplier." This survey of buyers revealed several key traits to look for in a research partner, including: excellent analytical skills, which are needed to properly evaluate research data; the ability to drive deep into consumer opinions and behaviors; a quick study who has experience in that industry or a related industry; and, finally, a research partner who will consult with the client, not just moderate sessions and write reports.
Focus groups are often a key qualitative approach, but qualitative research is a lively, colorful discipline that is rich with many methods that can be integrated together to get at the all-important consumer truths that marketers crave.
Ask your researcher about in-depth interviews, triads, ethnography, telephone focus groups, online chat and online bulletin board research. Each company's needs and audiences differ, and your research partner can help you identify the techniques that are most likely to yield the insights you need.
Nothing can match professional qualitative research for providing critical information and insight. Give proper time and attention to truly understanding your customer, and you might be pleasantly surprised at the effectiveness of your next marketing campaign.
Steve Richardson is director of communications at Qualitative Research Consultants Association. He can be reached at email@example.com.