Recently, a participant in one my seminars asked for an advice on how to go about a research project. He works for a large foreign company which was relatively new in its category. But in the few years since it entered the market, it overtook several competitors and became one of the top two in its category. Because of their now rather large size, he felt they now need to do research to determine the strength of his brand’s equity, get an idea of the attributes that consumers of his category felt were important, and how his brand and his leading competitors stood in relation to each of those attributes. Doing research is new to his company because so far they have done absolutely no research of any kind.
He had already consulted with a leading research agency, which recommended a two-stage research with a qualitative first stage and a quantitative equity study as the second stage. But he was not clear on what he would do with the research findings.
Since I have a strong preference for not doing any research unless it directly contributes to making important decisions on a brand, I advised him not to do that research. Because I have seen too many cases of research reports on attitude and equity not providing enough information to help make specific decisions. Why? Because those research projects were not framed in ways that would give enough information related to the key issues of a brand. Instead those studies were designed as “base line” studies.
Which is a waste of time, especially for brands which have not yet done research of any kind, and where justifying the research cost to company management uses up the political capital of the marketing person. Because when the research later does not provide enough decision-support, the whole idea of research could lose credibility with company management. Which then would resist any new research requests in the future.
So I asked him to develop a list of his brand’s issues or opportunities first, then rank them in order of importance to his brand. Next is to focus on the top three issues or opportunities, think through likely alternative actions and how research might help him choose from among his alternative actions. To help him identify issues, I asked him to interview about twenty of his brand’s consumers (they have showrooms), check key information, like current brand usage. He should also ask what they liked about their current brands, how they had heard about his brand and other bits of information. If the clients were considering switching, know the reason why and what disappointed them about their current brands. If some reasons given for switching or for being disappointed were not clear to him, he should probe until he gets a satisfactory answer. The quality of his information would not be perfect but at the end of the day, he would have a better feel for his priority issues.
He could then consolidate what he learned via direct contact with his consumers with the company’s sales performance and its other information relevant to judging customer satisfaction.  Armed with his list of priority issues/opportunities, and with a better understanding of his consumers and how they talked about the category and brands, it is possible that he could identify more possible issues/opportunities. Or find out a few things that could help him improve his understanding of his brand’s situation.
He could then go back to the research agency, tell them what his priority issues and opportunities are, and ask them to tell him how they proposed to help him make his decisions.
All this might take a bit more work.  But the net effect would be that there would be a lower probability of wasting money on non-actionable research, or getting research results that raise a lot of additional questions while not providing enough information to already make a decision on an important issue.

Benedicto “Poch” Cid is the Chief Brand Adviser of Mansmith and Fielders, Inc. (www.mansmith.net), the leading marketing and sales training company in the Philippines. For inquiries, please email info@mansmith.net, call (+63-2) 584-5858 /412-0034 or text (63) 918-81-168-88.