Last month I made the case that true success is bestowed on us by customers or target audiences who extol our virtues because of good experiences with our organization. Not only do they make us successful, they adopt and spread our preferred messages to a network of friends who visit the organization to experience what their trusted friend experienced. But how do you know when you are becoming successful?
Most organizations use typical accounting measures to determine success—the old bottom-line approach. There’s nothing wrong with that approach of course. But, it does not go far enough toward giving the organization the information it needs to become even more successful.
My preference is to tap the proverbial grapevine, or, the opinion leader network. Nobody disagrees that the network exists and that networking is valuable. But, I’m amazed that more organizations don’t tap this valuable form of research, which is also inexpensive if you do the research yourself. But before describing opinion leader research, let me review some other research techniques that are also useful to the organization.
This type of research is quick and easy. It is best used if you have only a couple of questions. Let’s say you just introduced a new product or service in an area. You did some traditional advertising and recently had an article appear in the media about this new product or service. You want to find out how Joe and Jane Target Audience perceive what you have to offer. You go to the local phone book, choose several letters of the alphabet and choose every tenth person under those letters of the alphabet. If you spread this assignment out over ten employees and each of you do ten phone calls, you can quickly assess what 100 people in the area think about your new product or service. You can also assess quickly whether it is even registering. You simply ask a couple of questions like: Have you seen or heard anything recently about X? What strikes you about X? Ask and you will get answers. Cost? Your time.
Another inexpensive way to check in on your new product or service is to conduct parking lot intercepts. This is particularly valuable for retail operations. Basically, you take the same two questions from the telephone overnight survey and ask them of customers leaving your store. Similar random results can occur. Again, costs are limited to your time.
This research process starts to involve more science of research and requires experience moderators and the development of a moderator’s guide. With the assistance of professionals, you develop the guide, assemble 10-12 people and have an orchestrated discussion for about 1.5 hours. Refreshments and incentives are usually necessary. This is a good way to test new messages, advertising and other concepts. The downside can be the effectiveness of the moderator, dominate forces within the group and cost. Focus groups can cost upwards of $2,500 including expenses.
This technique is definitely more scientific and has the added advantage of becoming projectable onto a target population. It requires the help of a research professional to develop the survey instrument and trained phone personnel to conduct the telephone research calls. You all know how ineffective telephone researchers can be. Have any of you been interrupted in the evening by a poorly trained telephone marketer recently? I suspect so. But, if properly trained they can get good response and valuable information for your organization. In a state like Maine, you typically have to get about 400 surveys completed to get the + or – 5% accuracy. Because of those numbers, you can rely on the results accurately applying to your target audiences statewide. This obviously requires more money to accomplish than the other forms of research. Though, I should point out, you can sometimes get some questions into other research that is going on (typically at colleges and universities) and save yourself significant dollars.
Opinion Leader Research
My favorite form of research, right now, is opinion leader research. It is relatively quick, inexpensive and the participants are happy to be a part of the research. The most difficult parts for my clients who choose this form of research are the development of the research instrument and conducting the interviews. The instrument development is difficult because it should be developed by a research professional (but, the client gets to participate closely and suggest the direction of the research). The interviews are difficult because the clients usually are intimidated and don’t want to do the interviews. This is the part that most amazes me—clients are nervous about asking customers (opinion leaders) about their organization. But, once they do conduct and interview or two, clients quickly realize that opinion leaders actually enjoy the process and want to help them succeed. That’s right customers actually want you to succeed and are willing to tell you ways to do so.
The process is simple. After the survey instrument is developed, you contact people who you think others turn to for information in your community on your subject. You are looking for the E F Hutton types—you know, the people who stand up in a meeting and everyone turns to hear what they have to say. You then schedule a one-on-one meeting with them at a restaurant or wherever they want to meet and have a friendly conversation. You should conduct upwards of ten of these interviews or until you start to see trends or similar responses.
- Inexpensive if you do it yourself.
- Valuable. Two interviews are 80% as effective as a full-blown focus group.
- Rewarding. Every person who has conducted this kind of research has said to me that the process yielded rich data and valuable insights they could immediately employ to do even a better job with their organization’s products or services.
Try it, you’ll like it!
Originally published in the Kennebec Business Monthly in August 2000 as part of a monthly guest series on public relations and marketing.