Knowledge is the prime need of the hour.

– Mary McLeod Bethune

How Primary Research Fuels Insight

March 17, 2021

Last month we discussed the importance of mining existing data — what’s already documented about your company history, your brand personality, and competition. This foundational information provides the basis for a situational analysis of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT). This secondary research helps you gain a clearer understanding of your organization’s present state. In some cases you need to  continue your fact-finding efforts with primary research.

When You Need to Know More

When secondary research doesn’t produce enough guidance, primary research such as qualitative interviews or focus groups, followed by quantitative surveys, can provide more insight into what people are feeling, thinking and saying about your business, products and services.

You’ll need these insights to move forward strategically with your marketing communication endeavors. Rather than guessing or reacting to what the marketplace springs on you, primary research looks beyond the past and prepares you for the future.

From Knowledge to Attitudes and Opinions

Research takes you beyond understanding what your stakeholders know about you (information), how people feel about you (attitudes) and what they will likely do (opinion or action). You’ll gain answers to questions such as:

  • What’s the best approach to reach your customers?
  • Are you addressing their needs?
  • Are you providing the information they need to act?

The success of your marketing communication plan rests on the insights gathered from employees, partners, current and prospective customers, and other stakeholders. These descriptive and measurable fact-finding missions put you on a trajectory to achieve your business goals.

Assurance That Pays Dividends

Yes, primary research costs money and time. And, the return on investment — though real — can be hard to measure. Like investing in your product R & D, it’s an internal investment that yields its rewards in the marketplace. Even before you launch your campaign, it can remove uncertainties and provide the confidence you need to take your next steps.

Can you move forward without research? It’s done all the time. Sometimes, you need to move quickly. You don’t have the time to ask questions and find the answers. Just realize you’re accepting added risks that may result in unanticipated (and often costly) adjustments.

It’s About Learning, Unlearning, and Continuous Learning

When I speak with clients about conducting research, I sometimes get that “Professor Riggs” stare. Rest assured, primary research isn’t only done in universities or by big companies. Yes, it’s about learning — learning what you don’t know. And, in the process, you may find yourself unlearning a few things you thought you knew.

Like all learning, primary research requires humility, an ability to maintain an openness to other’s viewpoints. It also requires courage, a quality of bravely to face difficult answers that may come from your discovery. To grow, you must be willing to learn. To keep growing, you need to keep learning.

I recently marked Women’s History Month with a visit to Bethune-Cookman University, founded by famed educator, humanitarian, philanthropist, and civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune. Before we arrived home, I had requests to complete online surveys from the airline, car rental, resort, and airport parking facilities. These companies get the essence of Mother Bethune’s statement “Knowledge is the prime need of the hour.” Learning from customers—actually talking and listening to their stories can be a life-changing skill. When done right, it’s really a critical means of getting to know what you don’t know.

Visit with us again next month when we’ll discuss how to use the insights gained from research to become better.