Everybody in the industry is singing the same tune: We can gather terabytes of data, but that data is not consistently translated into information, let alone knowledge. Being measurable is one of the Internet’s great promises, but making data consistently “actionable” is very complex.
Those of us in research face this issue every day. There are a thousand and one ways to gather data from the market, from consumers, and from business activity. But using these tools to help a client plan, develop and evaluate multi-million dollar investments in marketing and commerce requires careful planning and a commitment to the client’s bottom line.
A research project, whether it be a focus group, a survey, or log data analysis, is like a tiny mirror that should reflect some truth that is important to a client’s business. A research plan needs to be a mosaic of these tiny mirrors, forming a complete picture that will guide the client to success.
Research is not static; when used correctly, it drives the entire marketing cycle. That’s why you must work closely with the client and the account team to create a comprehensive research plan that starts from day one of an investment online. Ad hoc research is much less effective than research planned to play a role at every stage of the marketing and product development cycle.
It all starts with planning. As many of us know, many attempts to build or promote a business online have failed because the strategy was not properly articulated. Research is key in helping identify the market, segmenting the customer base, and predicting ROI. Primary market research, panel data, and an incisive competitive analysis are crucial building blocks in the planning phase.
If a client has an existing online program, analyzing efforts to date should have a powerful impact on future plans, as well as set benchmarks against which new investments are compared. This is particularly important in helping a client integrate online and offline marketing and commerce.
Once the strategy is set, the plan must be developed and tested. Clients are familiar with using research at this stage, because focus groups and copy testing have been a staple in the traditional world for years. Remember, though, that alternative methodologies, such as online quantitative testing and ethnographic research can be just as valuable. In any event, consumer feedback on concepts and tactics is imperative.
From day one of implementation, evaluation and optimization must begin. Here we measure whether the objectives we set in the planning phase are being met. Powerful tools such as brand tracking can pinpoint the attitudinal effects particular ads are having on specific targets. Log analysis will tell us how well we interpreted usability testing. Using this type of information, we can begin to optimize and make adjustments to our campaign. Equally important, this phase is where research creates accountability for the entire investment online.
This evaluation effort feeds into the next planning phase, which leads again to development and testing, and then to evaluation all over again. Properly done, research drives the marketing and product development cycle. Whether that cycle is three weeks or three years long, research plays a key role.
The tools available to us are getting more and more powerful every day. But nothing will ever replace the painstaking work of drawing the pieces together to help our clients achieve online success.