Versta Research Newsletter

Dear Reader,

When customers talk about wanting faster and cheaper research, we’ve learned they’re not clamoring for all research to be faster and cheaper than ever before. Rather, they’re looking for new methods and niche solutions that fit specific problems they face.

Five colleagues from corporate research worlds recently offered up some excellent ideas and viewpoints on this. We review some of those ideas in this winter newsletter, New Approaches for Faster (and Cheaper) Research.

Other items of interest in this newsletter include:
We are also delighted to share with you:

Plus, later this month Versta Research celebrates its 5th year anniversary! We’re excited about moving into our second half of a decade, and we’re looking forward to many more years of helping you turn data into stories.

Warm regards,

The Versta Team

New Approaches for Faster (and Cheaper) Market Research

Researchers want new approaches to research that are cheaper and fasterOne thing that struck me about the MRA Corporate Researchers Conference in October was that, in stark contrast to what research industry pundits always say, few presenters talked about wanting their research vendors to work cheaper and faster than ever before. Instead, they talked about needing new approaches to research that are cheaper and faster.

The distinction is crucial. The first pushes us to automate, routinize, outsource, and make our work more generic. The second pushes us to think more strategically, to be creative in solving research problems, and to get closer to our clients in exactly the same ways that corporate researchers try to get close to their internal clients.

Few presenters talked about wanting their research vendors to work cheaper and faster.

One of the best CRC sessions I attended was a keynote “jam session” with five corporate researchers. Each had just six minutes to talk through how they solved an important research challenge in their organization. They offered inspiring ideas about how to integrate research into their businesses in ways that offer faster, easier, and often cheaper insights. And they talked not about doing more with less, but about re-thinking their approach to executing and delivering research for internal clients. Here are some of the new approaches for faster and cheaper research that seemed especially useful:

1. Elevator Pitch Insights. The idea of developing and delivering Elevator Pitch Insights comes from Dale DeBoer at Meijer Corporation and Deanna Meyler at Bozell Marketing (Deanna called them Research Tidbits). Business managers and clients know that data and metrics are everywhere, so even small decisions can now benefit from research insight. But not many need or want the burden of a big study. So how can we deliver information in smaller formats that will grab attention and inspire managers to act?

Think “30 second elevator pitch,” they suggest, and package a finding in a document or story that lays out a question, an answer, and an implication for action in just a few punchy sentences or data points. It could be a single chart with a thought bubble pulled from a larger study, or a one-page infographic with a single headline and a handful of compelling stats. At Versta Research, we are now experimenting with a one-paragraph story summary (and also a top-line infographic—see below) for every project we complete.

One idea DeBoer suggested is to take a VOC approach (Voice of the Customer) and showcase one or two comments from customers that encapsulate a critical problem and research finding. It is always amazing how powerfully a customer’s comment can deliver the research insight, versus a research team telling clients what was found.

2. Infographics. Some researchers and graphics folks cringe at infographics, but our marketing, PR, and business colleagues seem to love them. Why? Because they can be exceptionally powerful ways to lay out research findings in succinct ways that invite reader involvement. The key is invest the time, effort, and thought to find the one story that matters and a limited number of data points to support it. For us, when it starts feeling like a PowerPoint slide, we know we’ve gone too far.

As long as we don’t overuse them, infographics let us do something different from the usual (and surely useful) charts, tables, and graphs featured in detailed reports. Indeed, after returning from the CRC conference in October, our team spent time vetting several infographic tools and developing the skills and an approach we felt would appeal to our end users. We’ve since been offering an infographic at the end of every project that our clients can use internally to publicize and share the research. The positive reactions (like “I LOVE LOVE LOVE this!!!!”) keep us going.

Our next newsletter will share some of the infographics we have developed with some “first learning” tips and tricks for preparing excellent research infographics. In the meantime, here is one starting point: a short post on five principles of infographic excellence.

3. Micro-Studies. Whether in marketing, operations, customer service, or some other business unit, good managers always have tons of “small” questions about their work which, if answered, could help them make smarter decisions. So instead of focusing on “big” needs for the next big study, why not think about small micro-studies targeted to small, strategic questions?

That is what Elizabeth Merrick at HSN did when faced with multiple research questions for a business initiative extending over many months, and when she was presented with a budget so small that big vendors would walk away. She used internal resources to organize multiple small focus groups with easily accessible respondents, and each group hashed out one small question at a time.

The approach delivered several unique benefits. For one, each study was intensely focused, which forced everyone involved to develop extremely tight, disciplined, and strategic approaches. Second, the small scope of each micro-study allowed for a continual flow of new findings and insights, which, in turn, allowed for elaboration and improvements on the next micro-study. It also allowed managers to continually implement ideas from the research instead of waiting for “the big report” at the end. Perhaps most importantly, Merrick says, the process, success, and involvement of everyone helped instill in the company a renewed focus on integrating research into program development, making the research function far more integral to the business.

4. In-The-Moment Research. We all know that online and mobile technology makes it possible to get data direct from a respondent in the field, onto to our desktops, and into our client’s hands in just a few hours. But how often do we actually do it? New technologies themselves don’t make research fast. Instead, it requires a new approach with painstaking planning and the discipline to focus solely on the most strategic data points. Recruit ahead of time, provide good incentives, remind respondents before launching, focus your data collection within a narrow window of time. Have all protocols tested, data templates pre-formatted, analysis mapped out, and outcome scenarios in mind.

For example, DeBoer at Meijer described pre-recruiting customers for a flash survey that would launch on Black Friday, the morning after Thanksgiving. The marketing strategy team wanted to know: what were Meijer’s customers doing, where were they shopping, and what drove their choices? By 4 p.m. he had information in managers’ hands. This was in contrast to the previous year’s research findings that were presented three weeks after fieldwork, much too late for the team to recalibrate its holiday strategy. Reed Cundiff described a similar effort at Microsoft. His research team planned and organized for months preceding the launch of Windows 8 in order to gather and deliver immediate insights to developers on the very first day.

Re-Thinking Research

There is no denying the importance of speed and cost that we all face in market research. But the approaches outlined by these researchers focused not so much on the speed of research from beginning to end, but on the speed and efficiency with which they could offer at least some important insights to their organizations. The challenge is to demonstrate value and relevance in an ongoing way, which requires always being ready to deliver, share, analyze, and synthesize even while big projects may be underway.

Don’t reduce it. Just re-think it.

Looking for faster, more economical approaches to delivering research findings to your clients and organizations? “Don’t reduce it. Just re-think it,” advised Merrick at HSN. It’s advice we’re taking to heart at Versta, and it’s already changing how we do our work.

Stories from the Versta Blog

Here are several recent posts from the Versta Research Blog. Click on any headline to read more.

New Methods and Resolutions for 2014

Here are five areas where we are investing additional training and expertise during the coming year to bring new methods and better market research to our clients.

Doing Research on the Night before Christmas

Here is a fun parody of getting a survey telephone call on Christmas Eve. Many thanks to the courageous phone interviewers out there with great senses of humor!

Letters Beat Postcards for Higher Response Rates

Research shows that providing advance notice about surveys will boost response rates, and that letters work better (and are ultimately cheaper) than postcards.

How to Publish Your PR Research

This article outlines three key ingredients to getting PR-driven surveys published in high level research journals beyond your typical consumer media.

Ignorance Drives Market Research

Too much focus on “what we know” from our research diverts us from the real driver of great research: finding answers to questions we do not already know.

Five Principles of Infographic Excellence

While many infographics are “chart junk,” infographics can be exceptionally compelling if they conform to Tufte’s Five Principles of Graphical Excellence.

AP Finally Moves to Online Polling

The Associated Press has been a media hold-out when it comes to online surveys, insisting that only phone surveys are valid. It has finally moved its own polling online.

Polling Group Gives Nod to Online Surveys

A report from the survey industry’s leading professional group says online surveys can provide statistically valid and reliable estimates of the U.S. population.

The Best Statistics Software

This article outlines the current pros and cons of four top statistics packages from the perspective of pollsters and public opinion survey researchers.

Crazy Ways to Get Close to Your Data

The best researchers spend at least some time involved in data collection, even if it means climbing mountains or trees to hear what their respondents are saying.

Three Lessons Learned from Corporate Researchers

Attending the CRC 2013 conference last week taught me three crucial, humbling, and inspiring lessons about the threats and challenges that corporate researchers face.

Pointy-Haired Boss Says “Research Is Stupid”

Rather than being stupid, research is more likely to be ineffective because it doesn’t address the right questions and tell the right story. There are ways to fix that.

Five Ways to Mobile-Ready Your Surveys

Now that optimizing for mobile is no longer optional, here are five principles for redesign that we are incorporating into our standard operating procedures.

The Mobile Imperative: Optimize All Your Surveys

Mobile surveys used to be an option for a new kind of online research. But now all online surveys must be optimized for large numbers of mobile respondents.

Versta Research in the News

Retirement Savings Up among Nurses

Fidelity Investments just released findings from the third wave of a tracking study conducted by Versta Research that measures shifts in attitudes and behaviors among U.S. nurses since 2007.

Professors Over-Confident and Complacent about Retirement Savings

Our research about retirement planning and savings among faculty in higher education was recently featured in The Boston Globe.

Recently Published

Patient Perspectives on Diabetes

Results from two consumer surveys conducted by Versta Research were published this past November in The Patient, a peer reviewed medical journal.