The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. Vol 3 Issue 8   September 2007

Organizations give a great deal of thought and attention to how their sales and marketing efforts reflect the company brand. We think the mode of market research employed also says a lot about a company’s underlying values and principles. In today’s newsletter, we’ll explain why.

Welcome back from summer, and as always, please click here to send us your thoughts and comments.

Julie Brown

Mark Palmerino
Executive Vice President

Does Your Research Walk The Talk?

Think how odd it would be to receive a fund-raising call from an organization, if during that call, you were given reasons not to contribute to the organization, even if you had supported it in the past.

Or how about this? What if you learned of an environmental group whose CEO drove his Hummer to fund-raising events?

These are outrageous examples, of course, and it’s unlikely either would ever take place; when it comes to sales calls and marketing communications, we all seem to understand the importance of matching tactics to vision. “Walking the talk” goes a long way in reinforcing the company brand, and external actions which detract from it are usually noted and corrected quickly.

But what about your market research? Does the approach you choose to gather and share information also reflect on your company’s vision? We think so.

Consistency as a Factor in Choosing Research

Often, the decision about the particular research methodology to employ is driven by a number of factors, at least some of which have to do with “How much will it cost?” and “How quickly can the work be done?”

While of course, these factors are practical, and valid, what if you added another factor: “How consistent is this mode of research with the decision we’re trying to make, or with the brand perception or company environment we’re trying to create?”

Imagine, for example, that you believed in the importance of “getting the voice of the customer into the way we do business.” If you really wanted to know what customers were thinking, you’d want to engage them in real conversations — conversations that give them the room to express themselves fully.

In this case, a (for example) close-ended, web-based survey that asked them to answer a set of preset questions on a scale of one to five, might not send a consistent message. Instead, the message sent is something along the lines of, “We say we’re interested in your opinions, our dear customers, but here, use this five question, closed-ended form to tell us what you really care about.”

On the flip side, if you ran a factory and had a goal of reducing the number of defective products manufactured through improved quality control, it might be more consistent to use a closed-ended research methodology that featured very precisely honed questions to improve and fine-tune your process.

The point is, the research mode you use can serve to not only get the answers you need, but in the process, reinforce whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish as a company.

Why Does it Matter?

Unlike sales calls and marketing communications, research in general, and particularly the research methodology decision, is not often integrated strategically into the lifeblood (i.e. the brand) of the organization. Making sure that it is, however, offers at least four advantages:

  1. It’s better for your clients and prospects.

    Outsiders are often quite good at picking up on company and brand inconsistencies. If you stand for customer respect, service and communication, for example, but your research approach is of the “check the box that applies” variety, you’re watering down your brand with every survey taken. Just as the environmental CEO serves the company better by driving a Prius, rather than a Hummer, your research approach can also reinforce or detract from your message.

  2. It’s better for your employees.

    Most well-established companies have programs and internal communications in place to help staff “learn how we do business.” It’s well understood at this point that every decision made and interaction experienced between your staff and the outside world is a reflection on the way you operate. It’s in your best interest as a company to be consistent wherever and whenever you can. When your research approach also mirrors your view of the world, it serves to reinforce this with staff, who in turn can do a better job of “walking the company talk.”

  3. It’s better for your research results.

    Let’s face it — there can be a lot of cynicism on the part of survey takers. This cynicism leads to survey results that are less useful than we’d like. Anything that we can do to encourage engaged, motivated participants in our research is a good thing. When a participant, in the course of taking a survey, has an insight like: “Oh, I get it, they really do care about what I think!” or “Wow, they say they want my opinions and look here, they’re actually letting me give them!” — then we end up with better, more useful, results.

  4. It can result in other, powerful benefits.

    There are some situations where the research mode itself can produce value that is often not even considered. Two examples of this kind of value are presented in Mixology (below). In the first, the research mode actually serves to continue and reinforce the education process that is being evaluated. In the second, the methodology reinforces the message that management is projecting to its sales staff, to customers and to prospects.

In practice, of course, you won’t always have the leeway to make your mode of research perfectly match your company’s values. Timing, budgets and the particular issue at hand may trump consistency, requiring you to utilize a different approach.

That said, it’s the wise researcher who recognizes that there’s an opportunity to increase the value of the research you do — and the company brand overall — by taking into account how consistent the approach is with whatever the goals of your company and research may be.

— Julie

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Mixology (Putting research into practice)

Okay, a research approach that’s consistent with your vision is important. But how exactly does that work in practice? Here are two brief examples:

Example 1:

A CSR client is in the process of measuring the effectiveness of some of its training courses. One particular course is built around how to have effective conversations with employees. There are principles that this course drives home, including how to engage in an “open-ended” conversation.

When the client shared the specific principles that these individuals were being taught, it became clear to both their team and ours that we could design a feedback approach that not only procured the information about course effectiveness, but also served to remind participants of the principles themselves.

In other words, in addition to getting really good information from the participants about the training, the research itself reminds them of their training experience, and leaves them with the powerful impression that the organization is very serious about this new way of engaging in conversations.

Example 2:

A Fortune 500 leader in commodities is trying to change its sales structure and style, moving from an approach that’s primarily order-taking, to one that is more consultative and long-term. Towards this end, and as a first step, the client is reorganizing its sales teams into industry segments, with each team retaining CSR to conduct in-depth telephone interviews regarding what each team’s respective target audiences want and need.

Priority one, of course, is to use this research to understand the target audience, so that the products and services offered can be shaped and fine-tuned accordingly.

In addition, however, the company is consciously and deliberately employing an open-ended, consultative approach to the research itself. This reinforces — in the minds of both salespeople and prospects — that the company’s transition of the role of its salespeople from order-takers to industrial expert problem-solvers is in fact, for real.


Does Your Research Walk The Talk?

Mixology (Putting research into practice)

Twist and Shout

About Us

If you are planning to be at either the AMA’s Annual Marketing Research Conference, Sept. 23–26, in Las Vegas, or The Market Research Event in Los Angeles from October 14th to 18th, please click “reply” to let us know, as we’d be happy to arrange to meet up with you at one or the other! Or, once you’re there, please feel free to look up our colleague Jennifer Lacy, CSR’s Director of Client Relations, who will be attending both events.

“Consistency is the foundation of virtue.”

— Francis Bacon
British statesman
and philosopher

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About Us
The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. (CSR) is a research firm. We combine open-ended questioning with our proprietary technology to create quantifiable data.


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