So you need to do some research. No matter what you’re researching, it’s important to be strategic about the process in which you research, rather than stressing early on about the product or output. The phrase “you find what you’re looking for” can all too often apply to research when you head into a project expecting to find a certain conclusion. Then, you find yourself only looking for information to support that opinion and disregard the data that challenges it. Enter: confirmation bias. This approach hurts the validity of your data and potentially your credibility as a researcher. So, how do you approach research with clarity, integrity, and totality?
As a marketing coordinator, I’ve compiled my top tips for conducting well-thought-out research, but this can be helpful information to someone researching at any level.
The Ground Rules
Outline Your Gameplan
You might be used to doing it for blogs as a marketing best practice, but it’s equally as important to use an outline when researching. Outlining (yes, physically writing or typing out) your plan of action will help you feel less overwhelmed and keep you on the right track when you’re deep in the research. Keep referencing your outline throughout the writing process, as it is dynamic and flexible and there to guide your writing and prevent writer's (or researcher's!) block.
Ask All the Questions
I mentioned this in my Open Letter to Marketing Coordinators, but it is so much better to ask questions early and often that you might need clarification on than to get too far into the project for fear of sounding inadequate. Make sure you know what’s expected of your research and clarify what might be unclear or up to your interpretation. If you’re directing the research, use this approach to your advantage by anticipating all the possible questions the researcher might have for you.
Balance Your Information
Another helpful research skill is learning how to balance more information with less when researching multiple entities. When first thinking about this tip, I was tempted to say “the more information the better” but you should really aim for balance. Sure, you can always trim the information later to only be the relevant data, but you also don’t want to create more work for yourself if you won’t end up needing certain information in the first place. Ask yourself what the most helpful information you can gather for this round of the project is. Also, ask yourself “are there any other essential pieces that might be needed? What’s redundant or self-explanatory? How can I simplify my conclusions when researching?” This will help you save time but also make it less overwhelming to those reviewing your research that haven't been deep in the weeds with you.
Stay on Top of Marketing Trends
It’s important to stay on top of the current trends and happenings in your field, as well as in the marketing world as a whole, even if it’s not a part of your job description. Being knowledgeable about these trends can help you craft your role to best support the efforts of the marketing team. I chose to do this by following a few trusted thought leaders on each social media platform so that my exposure to the “boots on the ground” knowledge isn’t just confined to when I’m at work. I love following a varied group of thought leaders including Simon Sinek, Flavilla Fongang, Bryan Kramer, and Sara Blakely.
Keep the Data Clean
Consistent, reliable data is the goal. When your data is laid out as a table, it’s much easier to compare and contrast all the information, leading to quicker and more accurate conclusions.
A few of the spreadsheet features that I use every day are:
- Insert checkbox
- Conditional Formatting
- Version history
- Auto-fill data
- Command + F to find
Types of Research
Whether you’re looking to compare products or companies, good research keeps your team from planning in a vacuum. Consumers can surprise us every day with their tendencies, choices, and preferences. That’s why it’s so important to take the time to research a diverse group of people using your product or interacting with your service.
1. Primary research contains both quantitative (the numerical or statistical data) and the qualitative (everything else) research. As far as how to actually gather this information, think of the human communication methods such as focus groups or one-on-one interviews with your test subjects. This can be done through surveys, interviews, questionnaires, and observations. Primary research usually takes longer to conduct but provides solid feedback to make informed decisions.
2. Secondary research is data that already exists beyond the scope of your project. It’s the nitty gritty reports, studies, websites, articles, and magazines. Make sure the information you find here is not more than a few years old, as it could be outdated for your use. Pro Tip: Look for data from government agencies, like libraries, as these are almost always free of charge.
Whether you work with an aspiring voice or established thought leader in your industry, creating additional exposure for them will result in exposure to your brand or organization. Say you work for a food bank. If your CEO could attend a few events a year, then you’ll widen your audience and spread awareness about your cause. This is where Event/Speaking Research comes in. Odds are unless you’re Brene Brown, people aren’t knocking down your door to get you to speak at their yearly conventions. So you’ll have to look for it yourself. Start small. There are hundreds of thousands of associations, conferences, and conventions that need presenters. First, decide what geographical area is reasonable to travel to and then nail down what it is you want to say to people. For the food bank, your audience might be wealthy donors, so a gala might be best. It might be teenagers to help recruit as volunteers, so a local high school might be the best audience. Choosing your message before your group might sound counterintuitive, but I’ve found that it helps streamline the process better and makes it a clearer “sell.” Thanks to the pandemic, online webinars have surged in popularity, making it easier to reach more people without spending budget on travel.
If you’re in PR, this is probably second nature to you. But otherwise, gathering media sources to pitch can be daunting at first. In essence, you’re gathering a list of sources that you can pitch your product, company, or story to, that will give you more exposure. These could be online news sources, specific journalists or reporters, influencers, bloggers, or social media personalities.
1. Think about your target audience. Who are they? What’s their demographic? What are they listening to? What are they watching, reading, following, liking, sending, tweeting, pinning, or saving? Where do they get their information? Is it a social media app like TikTok or the morning newspaper? Thinking about your audience will help you figure out which content creators are speaking most directly to your intended group.
2. What are some reputable sources in that industry's space? How do they prefer to handle media requests? Are there any side doors that you can be creative about entering to get your content noticed? Who is the best person to contact? Avoid “news@” or “info@” emails, as they’ll usually always end up in the trash.
3. Keep your information up to date. This goes for all research actually: don’t use data or research that is more than a month old without verifying and clarifying its information. Especially in media lists, as people change roles very quickly, it’s important to verify before you find yourself sending an email to the wrong person.
4. Make all communication personal, not spammy. And triple-check all of your emails. You’ve probably received an email addressed to “Name,” a time or two, and know that it won’t get you very far.
Pro tip: journalists love Twitter. Seriously. Poynter reports that 25% of Twitter’s authenticated users are journalists. Consider reaching out to them directly on social media. Sometimes, the response rate might just surprise you. Now, Twitter has made it even easier to keep track of your go-to journalists or new sources, with lists. You can create private lists, to keep track of magazines, news outlets, journalists, influencers, etc so that you can reach out to them easily and keep tabs on what they’re covering. You can also build your own feed with mentions of relevant keywords with free sites like Feedly.
Why does this all matter?
Approaching your research with a teachable attitude and inquisitive tenacity (say that 5x fast!) will make a big difference in your organization. But beyond that, it will help you grow personally as a marketer. In fact, if you’re a marketing coordinator like me, Ziprecruiter says that marketing coordinators with skills in digital communications, research analysis, or e-commerce marketing are well-positioned to sustain longer lasting careers, secure increased professional opportunities, and earn a higher salary. Regardless of level, W. Edwards Deming said, “Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.” This is the perfect way to sum up why good research matters: it makes you more than just another person with an opinion.
We’ll keep diving through different ways to be a better member of your marketing team to improve your organization’s marketing presence in the weeks to come. In the meantime, remember that there are tons of resources available to you online. If you’re interested in a deeper dive into any of the topics we discussed today, I’d suggest looking at a free course on Market Research with coursera or LinkedIn Learning (you’d think I was sponsored by them at this rate, but no, they’ve just got really awesome tools for our world). I’d love to know what thoughts you have from today’s blog or what you’d like to see next time.
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