Stakeholder research is incredibly valuable to informing an effective communications plan, developing targeted messaging and creating narratives that speak to real industry concerns.
I’ve often seen vendors who think they understand their target audiences’ sentiment based on gut intuition or select anecdotal evidence (like a particularly vocal salesperson representing one customer’s feedback as an entire market’s perspective). But committing resources and investing in formal communications should not be based on limited information and guessing. You need to know.
Many times, I’ve heard customers say things that are very far from what the vendor expected them to. The thing is, you can’t argue with what comes straight from the proverbial horse’s mouth. People think what they think. If you’re lucky enough to have them share their honest perspective, you can come to understand their beliefs and perceptions, and shape your marketing efforts to influence them accordingly.
How to Conduct a Productive Primary Research Effort
- First, thoughtfully assess your business requirement and decide on a specific objective for your research. What do you need to learn that you don’t know now? Do you want to understand how incumbent customers think about your brand or product? Do you want to know how your target customers prioritize the problem you solve? How you stack up against competitors? Get very clear on your goal – any particular research effort should be designed to get at one important learning. Mixing goals or trying to cram in too much won’t work; respondents’ attention spans and available time are short.
Bring focus to your key business questions that require probing and alignment. You will need to get to the point quickly to keep respondents engaged and willing to share honestly, so be very thoughtful about what you want to ask. Your research partner can help you structure questions accordingly.
- Choose the right methodology – do you need quantitative or qualitative research, or both? Quantitative survey instruments should be kept as short as possible, so they must be designed to extract the most relevant information from qualified respondents. Surveying will yield findings from a broader set of respondents than you can typically reach for live discussions. But aside from inserting an open-ended question or two, you can’t dig deeper into any particular finding that may surface.
Qualitative research like focus groups and depth interviewing is where you can get deeper feedback and explore the “Why” behind a respondent’s opinion. Skilled facilitators can dynamically expand and shift discussions as new insights emerge, maximizing the ROI of each conversation. The number of discussions will typically be limited to a much smaller group of respondents than you would reach with a quantitative study, but those discussions are richer.
You may need a combination of quantitative and qualitative – a survey reveals an issue you want to understand more deeply, so you probe through some solid conversations. Or you start with conversations, discover a broader trend, and explore that through a survey.
Once you gather your objective data, cull out key issues and insights from the learnings that are germane to your communication strategy. Assimilate those into actionable plans. From there, you can develop targeted messaging that speaks to what key audiences care about, and campaigns that will resonate with them.
Additional Methods to Inform Your Communications
Search engine optimization (SEO) is another valuable input to guide how you present your message. Start with researching what people are searching for, so you can map your content to what they want to find. Research different keywords – how commonly are they sought; how competitive are they to rank for; what slight nuances might help you rank higher.
Mining social media can also offer valuable insights. Digital sentiment analysis can tap into public opinion expressed online. It’s a good way to follow trending conversations, get direct feedback on customer experiences and perceptions, and keep a pulse on your market. While methods like this may work best for consumer brands, B2B companies with a strong social presence and audience engagement can sometimes benefit as well, especially if you’re keeping up an active social media presence.
You can also supplement primary research with secondary sources – paid subscriptions, analysts and services available through public libraries. Those won’t answer a specific business question you have, but will help with macro trend information.
Investing a little time and effort up front to better understand your target prospects will help direct your marcom efforts for maximum ROI. W2 Communications can help drive your research effort to ensure that your unique market value is clear, relevant and understood. Contact us today if you’d like to learn more!