Segment from my recently re-published book, Competitive Intelligence Workbook. For more information about Competitive Intelligence Workbook (including order information), visit my website.
An underlying process is common to all types of media and business research:
Step One – Identification of Problem or Need
The research process begins by defining the problem to solve, the need to address, and/or the idea to develop. Clear identification of what you hope to accomplish and the depth of understanding involved in problem identification is half the research battle, as this will dictate the direction of your research and subsequent analysis. How you frame the question(s) for research and analysis determines whether the actual problems you face will be addressed or whether you risk doing really great research on the wrong subject. This concept of problem identification can seem deceptively simple (sometimes it is straightforward!), but many case studies have been built around people and organizations who set out to research or solve a problem without getting at the core issue. Research into how to produce more widgets won’t help a company that doesn’t need more widgets.
Step Two – Select and Design of Research Plan
Who needs to know the information? How will the information be used? How can we measure whether our research results solve the problem we are trying to address?
Once a purpose for research has been clearly defined in step one, it is time to select and develop a research plan. Many approaches to research exist; an approach appropriate to the problem at hand must be selected. The appropriate form of research, depending upon what needs to be known or solved, can include one or more of the following: general information gathering (i.e., make a few phone calls, obtaining existing reports or market data, etc.), market studies (studying a particular market issue or set of issues), market or consumer research (surveys, focus groups, etc), competitive intelligence (study the activities of competing firms), operations research (statistical modeling, performance analysis, etc.), or ????
Once an appropriate form of research has been identified, develop a tailored research plan based upon the research format selected. A selected format will need to be tailored around some of the questions from step one of the research process: Who needs to know the information? How will the information be used? How can we measure whether our research results solve the problem we are trying to address?
Step Three – Data Collection
You have identified what needs to be solved or looked into. You have developed a research plan appropriate for the defined problem. You can now begin conducting the research by gathering data – interviewing market research respondents, etc. The type of data sought and obtained will be determined by what you need to know and by the research methodology chosen. If you are doing telephone surveys, data collection involves gathering survey responses by contacting the type – and quantity – of respondents chosen for the study. If your study requires that you choose between two or more options (for example, relocate your company to City A, City B, or City C), you must gather relevant data that will help you make a decision. If you need to fix an internal departmental problem…….. Information sources and areas of researcher expertise required for each type of research will be addressed in the chapters dedicated to each type of topical research.
Step Four – Data Analysis/Interpretation
Once data has been collected, you can move into the full process of data analysis and interpretation. What does the data reveal about your question and/or problem under investigation? Are there analytical models utilized for this type of research (SWOT analysis for competitive intelligence, for example)? If you had any estimates of what would be revealed by the research, are your estimates confirmed or disproven by the actual data collected? What do you think the company should do based on the results of the research (direct the consumer marketing in a certain direction, increase production, redirect strategic planning, etc)? Who will need this data? Project results need to be looked at, understood, and – most important – utilized.
Step Five – Preparation and Presentation of Results
Step five of the research process is the preparation and presentation of your report/recommendations. In small firms, the researcher and the information user may be the same person. If you are conducting research for your own use, you will want to organize your research results for your own ease of use and for future reference. In larger companies, the researcher(s) and the end users are often different people. If you are conducting research for someone else (a client, a supervisor, or another department), prepare reports tailored to the needs recipients – and in the format they desire.
Tabulated data will have been handled at the end of the research process; you may now need to adapt the tabulated results for use by various recipients (briefings, full reports, and varied reports/recommendations). You will be in a position to provide varying levels of analysis and recommendations based upon the relationship you have with the people awaiting your report.
Use your report to cover the following: the type of research conducted, its’ purpose/application, project results, recommendations (as appropriate), and any suggestions for follow-up research (perhaps the first round of research identified additional issues that need to be addressed). Organize written reports using accepted industry standards. Sample reports – such as those provided in my early book entitled Competitive Intelligence Workbook – are found in the chapters devoted to specific types of research.
The effectiveness of your report will be measured in how – or how well – it gets utilized (step six). Whether your research gets utilized will be determined in part by how well you present the results of your efforts. Work to present your results in a manner that will be well received by respondents – clear, concise, and logically presented. In your report, include only information that is relevant to the recipient. Communicate directly, assertively, and accurately. Communicate the actual results of the project to your client – whether the results “prove” or “disprove” what your client was hoping to learn. Real research will be presented accurately, even if it disproves a pet theory of the client.
Step Six – Utilization of Research
Utilization of data (step six) is critical in research. We’ve all heard stories of research conducted but never used. Common reasons for lack of use include “it got lost in the bureaucracy,” it conflicted with the interests of someone in the company, there’s no budget for implementation, and – worst of all from the researcher’s perspective – the researchers fail to demonstrate how the research is relevant for the firm (the research may be interesting-only and/or have an application that needs to be explained). In order to justify conducting research the research results should have some kind of tangible – and well articulated – application. Improving a process, increasing the understanding of a problem, and the identification of new market opportunities are examples of tangible applications for research. If you are the person reporting the results of research, articulate the results AND THEIR APPLICATION in a way that will be effectively received by recipients. This often impacts the degree to which your research will be used to benefit the firm. If you are reporting to management, present your report in a way that will be relevant for them (while something may seem obvious to the person(s) conducting research, you may have to spell it out to recipients who are working from their own point of view). If charts and graphs will help, use them. If certain communication styles are helpful, use those styles (clear and logical thinking, direct communication, aggressive statements/recommendations, etc.). Work to get your research in front of decision makers.
Step Seven – Perpetuate Research Cycle
Finally, feed the results of your research back into the research process. Some research may only have a one-time application (give example), but there are many instances when a research study is part of a larger process. The larger process can be part of both a larger research process and/or part of a corporate/operations process. Some forms of research are ongoing (i.e., tracking sales trends and demographic shifts, #, #, etc.). Alternately, a given research process can be utilized by a corporate or operations process that management will want to study later, that could be duplicated in another part of the firm (benchmarking), or that may need periodic refinement. In those instances, people will want research reports to understand how decisions were made and they may wish to periodically update your current research. Further, a current research project (short-term) may fit into a larger (i.e., ongoing or recurring) research process. You’ll want to ensure that the current work gets plugged in appropriately to the long-term process (feed in results, etc.). This is not meant to suggest that research should continue simply for the sake of research; rather, an effort should be made to apply current knowledge to future research needs (separate sentence: Current knowledge/research results need to be saved in a format that can be accessed and utilized by the company in the future – reports, electronic data, etc.).
This is a segment from my recently re-published book, Competitive Intelligence Workbook. For more information about Competitive Intelligence Workbook (including order information), visit my website.
© Copyright, Competitive Intelligence Workbook. Kim Burkhardt