When Research Goes Wrong (You Gotta Face the Music)

When Research Goes Wrong (You Gotta Face the Music)

So your brand needs some research. Maybe you need a segmentation study. Or maybe some user testing. Or you just need to do some market research for a campaign. This is the kind of work strategists live for—as long as you play by the rules.

Research can go wrong. I’ve had to help clients—and my own teams, too—face the music when it comes to research. Here’s some music I’ve had to face.

1. You can’t always get what you want
The Rolling Stones likely weren’t singing about research outcomes, but they certainly could’ve been.


The Situation
Bob thinks his brand’s tagline is wonderful. He thinks it’s recognizable, unique, empowering—the superlatives could go on and on. So he calls up his strategist to conduct research. He wants the research to prove to his board just how wonderful his tagline really is.

The Issue
Research is about discovery, not proof. Research can’t always get you what you want. Bob’s strategist may discover that his tagline is actually mundane, muddy, offensive—the superlatives might just go on and on. But Bob will want to build the report to focus on the good stuff because he had a result in mind going in.

How to Avoid It
Bob and his strategist should set expectations regarding outcomes and research criteria before the research, entering the project with clear objectives and hypotheses. But when the data yields something other than your hypothesis, it’s important to review the results with an open mind, not cherry-pick results, and pivot the strategy if needed.

2. Why’d you have to go and make things so complicated?
Okay, so Avril clearly wasn’t happy when writing this song. But neither are clients who are given results so scientific or verbose that no one can apply them.


The Situation
Marie is a strategist. She has poured months into launching and fielding a global brand tracker to measure brand health for her client. She is knee-deep in her findings and cannot wait to show them to her client. But she forgets the most important part of research: crafting the story of what was learned.

The Issue
If the research isn’t digestible or actionable, it can’t be applied.  

How to Avoid It
Take the time to tell a story with your research. Tie it to pain points and business objectives within each part of the organization you’re working with. Net out the most salient findings and tailor them to each team. The result should be a concise presentation with actionable insights, so they can use the research as a tool.

3. So tell me what you want, what you really, really want
Though the Spice Girls may have left us wondering about the meaning of this song, your research partner shouldn’t have to wonder about the focus of your research.


The Situation
NewCuttingEdgeStartup knows they need a brand strategy. And they know they need market research to create it. So they jump in.

The Issue
While they’re oh so cutting edge you can’t even believe it, they are still looking to this research initiative to answer an ever-increasing list of questions (e.g., What is the best way to segment our audience? How do consumers use our product? What do they think about our oh-so-cutting-edge messaging?). The underlying problem is they lack a clear research objective. research is most successful when it is focused, concise, and specific.

How to Avoid It
NewCuttingEdgeStartup needed to get all their team leads into a room to decide what to measure and which metrics to use. Cross-functional alignment and a clear understanding of the research objectives, expected research outcomes, and team hypotheses would lead their brand to success (and maybe a new name).

4. We can work it out, we can work it out
Just like The Beatles, your team may be so hardworking and so strong in what they do that everyone has their own idea of success.


The Situation
Kyle, a product manager, knows he needs to better understand the target audience to prepare for an upcoming launch. He jumps right in and contacts a research partner to conduct an audience segmentation study.

The Issue
Kyle didn’t get buy-in from all of the stakeholders and commitment that they’ll apply the results. This failure to align with all the potential users of the research leads to limited findings and adoption. The segmentation just sits on the shelf, never to be applied.

How to Avoid It
Begin your research study by recruiting key stakeholders (e.g., marketing, user experience teams, regional counterparts, product design). Enlist a handful to serve as trusted partners throughout the project and the rest to review and challenge the research at critical checkpoints. In those initial conversations, make sure to spend time discussing what you already know and what else you need to learn.

5. The waiting is the hardest part
Just like Tom Petty, marketers have to realize that all good things take time. Quality research is no different.


The Situation
Simone isn’t sure that the new feature her team is getting ready to launch is prominent enough on the website. She is eager to get the new feature into market and doesn’t want to waste time conducting a research study. Simone consults nearby colleagues, some friends who work in start-ups, and her roommates. They all agree with her: the new feature should be in a different spot. So she goes to her agency and let’s them know that the research concludes they should make the feature stand out more.

The Issue
The sample is too small to make any true conclusions. The sample is probably a little biased too, as friends are likely to tell you what you want to hear and may not be representative of the target audience. Turns out the feature makes it to a prominent location on the website, but the target isn’t using it because it didn’t communicate the right benefits.

How to Avoid It
Conduct true research with a representative sample. Recruit a strategist and have them create a plan and then execute it. It’ll take longer; you won’t get immediate results, but you’ll get a true conclusion.

Keep these tips in mind before embarking on research and you’ll be enjoying the music instead of facing it.

1 Comment

  1. Interesting way of explaining research :) Love it!

    Reply

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