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The Shocking Truth About Research

Almost everyone cringes when the word research comes up in conversation. Torturous images of piles upon piles of papers filled with numbers and charts instantly come to mind.

These images and ideas about research once plagued my mind as well, but research doesn’t have to be that way. It can be rather simple and builds a sturdy foundation for measurable marketing. It should be the first step in every marketing campaign, whether it be advertising, social media or public relations.

Erika Hall says it perfectly in Just Enough Research when listing ways research is valuable:

  1. Determine whether you’re solving the right problem.
  2. Figure out who in an organization is likely to tank your project.
  3. Discover your best competitive advantages.
  4. Learn how to convince your customers to care about the same things you do.
  5. Identify small changes with a huge potential influence.
  6. See where your own blind spots and biases are preventing you from doing your best work.

Hall mentions that research should be done as a team. She feels it’s crucial to involve all team members in the research process because people who have a hand in collecting insights will look for opportunities to apply them in their work.

In her book, Hall describes four different types of research:

  1. Generative or exploratory research — this type of research includes interviews, field observations and reviewing existing literature. It aims to define the problem, or to illuminate ideas you didn’t realize were there.
  2. Descriptive and explanatory research — this is what you do when you already have a design problem and need to do research to better understand its context. It helps to avoid personal biases. You don’t want to design for yourself, you want to design for your audience. Descriptive research answers the question “What is the best way to solve the problem I’ve identified?”
  3. Evaluative research — This is where you test ideas for potential solutions. The most common type of evaluative research is usability testing. Hall also mentions that usability testing is more accurate when not performed in a lab, but observed in real situations.
  4. Causal research — This type of research is performed once your product is launched, and people are not using it in the way you expected. It can involve visiting your site and watching how people interact, or looking at other things happening in the market. Maybe your competitor launched a similar product and confused your audience.

Research is scary, and you may receive pushback from colleagues. It can sound like time you can’t spare. Be ready to go to bat for your research project.

When someone pushes back and says there’s no time, point out that time should be made to ensure all of the assumptions are on point. Imagine how much time it would take to redo a campaign because it didn’t properly resonate with the audience.

Research will steer you in the right direction, and help to better connect to and serve your target audiences.