Research can be a difficult topic to broach with clients. I go into every discussion with a new agency or prospective client assuming they’ve had a bad experience with research — because most of them have. It’s often been difficult for clients to understand and make use of the many tables and charts they receive after a research initiative — and so it sits on a shelf, unused. (I call it the Dusty Binder Syndrome.) Unsurprisingly, those who have had this experience feel that research just isn’t worth the spend.
So how can you ensure that your client is in the right place to conduct research, to use it effectively and to see the impact on their business?
I break down the answer into three “B’s”: Buyers, Budgets and Beliefs.
Whether audience research is feasible — and if so, what type of research to do — depends a lot on the client’s current and prospective customer group.
- Can you reach them? If your client doesn’t have a database of email addresses for buyers or prospects, maybe they can enlist a partner who does, in exchange for sharing some of the research findings.
- Can you reach enough of them? To conduct quantitative research that’s reliable, we typically target 400 respondents at a minimum. Clients who serve a small geography or a small niche may not be able to access enough respondents to pull this off. However, it may still be worthwhile going with quantitative research if your client can access the majority of people or organizations in that small group. (This is particularly common with B2B companies who serve clients in a small industry.)
Working with a reputable panel provider can often give you access to your client’s current or prospective customers (either consumers or business decision-makers). Panels typically charge for only the respondents who meet your specifications and complete your survey. Fees for panel respondents can run from under $10 to more than $100 each depending on who you’re trying to reach, and respondents may be unavailable if your target is within a tight geographic area.
Clients with access to fewer respondents may want to consider qualitative research such as focus groups or interviews. While the responses won’t be statistically significant, they can nevertheless offer ideas for content, new products or marketing messaging.
- Do they have the budget? Research costs range from $2K to $100K or more depending on what you want to accomplish. (Audience Audit studies range from $5K-$25K in most situations.)
- Do they have budget BEYOND the research budget? Don’t propose research if it would require the bulk of your client’s marketing budget. This ends up making everyone unhappy — you because your agency doesn’t get to do the work YOU do, the client because they don’t have any marketing results to show for their spend, and your researcher (if they’re like me) because we don’t like clients to spend money on research they can’t use.
Look for cost-effective options that your client can afford while still allowing room in the budget for marketing strategy and execution. Again, that might mean doing a more straightforward customer-satisfaction survey this year, with something more ambitious later.
- Are they curious? Do they really want to know more about their audiences, and do they believe that information will help them be more effective?
- Will they accept new information? We’ve all experienced clients who believe they know everything there is to know about their customers and prospects. While any business owner or decision-maker will have valuable insight about the people they’re trying to serve, in my experience some just don’t want to hear anything that doesn’t align with their expectations or assumptions.
If your client is right about their assumptions, that will be revealed in the research. If not, new insights can drive new thinking and better, more effective messaging, content and customer experiences.
If you are dealing with a client who really won’t accept facts that defy their own opinions, don’t push the research. It will undoubtedly contain some surprises, and if your client won’t accept or use the research your agency will end up in the line of fire.