In the small business world, marketing research is a criminally under-utilized tool; however, like all other aspects of marketing, there is a time and place for it. Ever heard the saying “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”? Many small business owners and marketers are big fans of a specific marketing vehicle, be it advertising, sales promotions, social media, or search engine optimization, and they wield it to attack every growth challenge.
If you are contemplating a marketing research project to address your business challenge, you are on the right track! Marketing research is a powerful tool in many situations; nevertheless, there are times where this tool should be kept in the tool box. Here are six indicators that is the case:
Caution: Research Not Advised
1. The information you need already exists
No sense in re-inventing the wheel! Any good research exercise starts with review of existing data. Answers can frequently be found without engaging in what’s known as primary research. For example, if one of your target market demographics is married women between the ages of 18 and 35, you can locate the total number of that select population in your market via The U.S. Census Bureau.
If your business is heavily reliant on tourism and presently considering launching a store in a new city, you could check with the local economic development authority or chamber of commerce to get information like annual tourism and related spending. Internal data, government data, public studies, and completed studies-for-sale should be considered before commissioning a research project.
2. The cost of the project outweighs the benefits
Like any investment, the benefits should outweigh the cost. If you have to spend seven thousand dollars to answer a two thousand dollar question, that money (and time) is best spent elsewhere. The best way to avoid this problem is to invest thoughtful evaluation into the current cost incurred from the challenge, the estimated value in solving the challenge, and the opportunity cost in action versus inaction.
3. Leadership can’t come to agreement on needed information
Marketing research is used to reveal problems and make strategic decisions. If leadership isn’t on the same page regarding the challenge to be addressed, the related research question, and the manner in which the results will be leveraged, then the project is a failure before it starts.
This issue is exacerbated in the event that a research firm is brought in to lead the project. If the research team isn’t given clear expectations and a unified goal, it is impossible to build a strong study and deliver meaningful results.
4. You are looking to outsource responsibility for decisions
Aside from the fact that passing the buck is poor leadership, data and research should always be an objective reference for decision-making, not a decision-making substitute. Any research designed to justify a past decision is bad practice all-around. Oftentimes the opposite is the case in small business (making decisions without consulting objective data), but be wary of the pendulum swinging to the other extreme.
5. You have insufficient time or budget
Three major factors in marketing research are cost, speed, and accuracy/reliability. Professional researchers will tell you a project can be two-out-of-three, but not all. It is important to be mindful of this when constructing fund and time budgets for your initiative. If you wouldn’t ask an auto shop to replace your car engine within two hours and an oil-change budget, then you should also avoid that approach in marketing research.
6. Your mind is made up at the outset
If the resulting decision will be the same regardless of the data produced from a research project, don’t waste your time or money. Confirmation bias and closed-mindedness don’t mix well with marketing research, so ensure all decision makers agree to honestly consult the research (as it merits) before drawing conclusions.
Know What You Want And What You Are Willing To Give For It
The repeated themes here are leadership, investment, and expectations. Marketing research is a systematic vehicle, so small businesses have to follow the script when tapping into the more analytical side of marketing. If your business has unified leadership on the challenge to address, commitment to the process, and proper resource allocation, the research project will have a good foundation. Otherwise, any significant endeavor is bound to fail - research projects included.
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