Master Class: What is the best way to conduct research during a difficult economy?

This month's panel includes Cramer-Krasselt's Nigel Carr, StrategyOne's Natasha Fogel, Weber Shandwick's Leslie Gaines-Ross, Ogilvy PR's Jennifer Scott, and Carmichael Lynch Spong's James Wiltshire


Nigel Carr
SVP, director of brand planning, Cramer-Krasselt

Natasha Fogel
EVP of global analytics and measurement, StrategyOne

Leslie Gaines-Ross
Chief reputation strategist, Weber Shandwick

Jennifer Scott
MD, insights and research, Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide

James Wiltshire
Research director, Carmichael Lynch Spong


Nigel Carr, SVP, director of brand planning, Cramer-Krasselt

Brand planning is integral to strategy development. When times are tough, good research can give marketers even more of an edge. Here are some recommendations:

Organizations must not treat research as a one-off or a box to be checked. Maintain an ongoing dialogue so you're not blindsided by changes. Gather information from everywhere you sell your brand - and everyone who buys it or could buy it. Identify who really drives your business and understand what motivates them.

Make research the job of everyone in your company. Create a culture that makes every customer touchpoint a learning opportunity. Your front-line employees are making connections with customers and prospects that could multiply your research budget.  

Analyze all the data you have by going beyond focus groups and surveys. Learn from all the information to which your company has access. Talk continuously to retailers, distributors, partners, vendors - even competitors - to stay ahead of what's happening in and around your category. Mine the details of your sales data (product mix/package sizes/pricing/regionality/seasonality/ distribution) to learn what it's telling you about where the business is going.

Remember there are many places you can observe and learn from your audience. When you see people recommending (or trashing) your brand, online or offline, listen carefully to what they say, and whether their colleagues, friends, or family are convinced. Use that in-formal learning from brand evangelists and brand rejecters to develop hypotheses you can explore in more formal research.

Stop calling your audience "the target" - show them more empathy and respect. Love them - because that's how you'll get them to love you back. Figure out how to be their ad- vocate and improve their lives - and mean it.


Natasha Fogel, EVP of global analytics and measurement, StrategyOne

Many of us are faced with finding in-expensive solutions to inform strategy, help us with a pitch, and to measure results. Yet how can we do so when we have few funds available to us?

Omnibus surveys are a great way to poll a nationally representative group of consumers. It is relatively inexpensive at approximately $1,500 a question and might be used for planning or media. Furthermore, to get people's opinions on any topic, focus groups could be used. They are about $6,000 to $8,000 per group.  The results of the analysis are not projectable, but they can answer why people feel a certain way and help guide your project, PR program, messaging, etc.

Publicly available survey research and market research may be found through sites like Roper, Pew, and Government and NGO statistical information on provides access to soft-soundings (i.e., to weigh editors' perceptions). Intercept studies and Internet polls are becoming increasingly valid for large portions of the population.

For blog searches, Google blog search and Technorati, Web traffic via Compete and Alexa, and finally Google ad planner are all useful for PR teams to do some audience positioning. For example, if a set of people read publication A, they'll likely read publication B.

Measurement media analysis can be done inexpensively if you limit the content to the most influential media sources, be they traditional or social. Use the Top 20 publications for your audience, or Top 20 blogs on environmental issues, for example. A statistical sample will help control time and cost to measure or focus on stories that have at least three mentions of your topic to capture feature coverage.


Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief reputation strategist, Weber Shandwick

The tough economic headwinds of the past 18 months have created a fundamental shift in people's expectations of market research. Although clients still want research that provides deep insights into customers and the marketplace, now they want it "faster, cheaper, and better." And they are willing to sacrifice some of the science and quality behind market research and opinion polling simply to get an answer - any answer - that can provide direction and justify plans. This can be risky.

There are several research approaches that work in an unpredictable environment. Online survey software now allows anyone to develop surveys with results that are inexpensively and quickly gathered. Insights tools based on social network analyses and influencer mapping have become popular. In addition, market research communities have now been perfected online, where clients can build secure customer advisory boards that yield qualitative feedback. Even the traditional focus group has moved online where large numbers can instantaneously vote on concepts. And let's not forget how technology provides us with limitless secondary research. We can now inexpensively provide clients with timely intelligence on competitors, customers, employees, and the media by doing our homework online.

Despite all these research opportunities, nothing replaces statistically valid research that comes from professionally constructed and representative audiences. Companies with slashed budgets should work hard to identify cost savings, as well as integrate newer research solutions (primary and secondary research) into their plans. That said, newer and faster research methodologies will continue to evolve in this economic climate.  As a reminder, the best form of insurance for agencies to recommend to clients is to always tap into the sentiment and voice of the consumer.



Jennifer Scott, MD of research and insights, Ogilvy PR Worldwide

We have applied three principles that we believe keep the research practice vibrant and valuable during the recession:

Hitch a ride.

Look beyond clients' PR departments to determine what major tracking studies their marketing groups might already be running on an ongoing basis. Then work with the relevant teams to integrate questions that will inform and measure PR activities. The strategic addition of a few well-crafted questions to an established advertising tracking study can yield a wealth of data.

For a major retailer, for example, we added measures to its ongoing advertising tracking survey that delivered data on awareness of and reactions to the PR campaign. For less than $5,000, this approach delivered detailed, statistically accurate metrics on the performance of PR.

Go online.

Online research tools are usually considerably more cost- and time-effective than in-person or phone approaches. Despite the recession, Internet penetration is so extensive within the US population that these approaches are now highly reliable. Additionally, the Internet itself is a font of free qualitative information and data - if you apply smart search terms and scour the right chat rooms.

No sacred cows.

Evaluate every new research need with an eye on deploying the most cost-effective methodology, and be prepared to let go of traditional approaches. Many costly custom surveys can be converted into cheaper omnibus approaches with a little ingenuity, such as leveraging seminal research already in the marketplace to build upon existing findings.

On behalf of a major manufacturer, we inserted three highly targeted questions into an omnibus, ultimately achieving 73 million impressions (with no multiplier), for a total research expenditure of just $5,000.



James Wiltshire, research director, Carmichael Lynch Spong

Tough economic times force many companies to make decisions that aim to support their sales, trim costs, and ultimately protect the bottom line. However, with fewer consumers spending less money, it's as vital as ever, maybe even more so, that these companies listen to the voice of their customers.

People's motivations and behavior can shift significantly during tough times, so insights learned and actions taken during the heydays of a strong economy may suddenly become a lot less relevant. Realistically, the research budget, along with every department's budget, is likely to be trimmed, yet there are ways to economically deliver the voice of the customer to your internal clients.

If you are buying a lot of syndicated data, look to scrutinize your existing resources and make sure you're mining them for every last drop of relevant insight.

If you need fresh, up-to-the-minute quantitative data, and have the ability to tackle your own questionnaires, analyses, and reports, consider using one of the many DIY online survey tools like Survey Monkey. These generally offer a high level of flexibility and customization and the only external vendor cost is likely to be for the purchase of respondents from a panel such as e-Rewards. Project costs can be a tenth of what they'd normally be if completely outsourced to a research vendor.

Agencies serving diverse clients that happen to target similar consumer demographics can save their clients money by having them partner together on projects. Pajamas and Canadian fruit bowls wouldn't sit well together in the same research, but maybe younger Harley-Davidson riders and Jack Link's beef jerky would.

The Takeaway:

PR can piggyback on research being conducted for other departments, like advertising, thus offering valuable insight while also saving money

There are many online survey tools that offer an inexpensive way to conduct research

Sales data can provide some valuable information about a business and can help to inform PR messaging and strategy

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