Conducting Research With Hard-to-Reach Groups
Market research is experiencing a radical transformation in which traditional assumptions about approaching and fielding proprietary studies are nearly obsolete. Now that nearly all of us are tech-enabled, connected and tech-dependent, data collection happens all the time, all around us. Some of us routinely and automatically express our sentiment via social media and comment communities. And when not automatic, we’re prompted through endless requests for feedback on our experiences – whether the daily trip to Starbucks or the unwonted incidence concerning our health or humanity.
It’s a shame that as data becomes more abundant and often free, measured study has become extraordinarily expensive. Over-sampling has led to slimmer panels of desirable research participants, even as measurement intervals shrink in an attempt to keep up with constant change. For example, one study we conducted almost four years ago would be nearly three times more costly to conduct today.
But clearly the demand for insight is increasing. Whether we act as consumers or professionals, our decision making is more nuanced than it once was, and our choices are numerous. So when clients ask how to reach a hard-to-reach group, we start with a discussion that is almost opposite of that from a few short years ago. Rather than narrowing objectives and focusing research efforts, we now talk about broadening objectives and pooling research efforts. My favorite analogy is that conducting market research is now akin to putting an addition on my home; the builder said, “The size of the addition doesn’t affect the price much. It’s deciding to begin at all that makes an addition so costly.” (My six-foot kitchen ambitions grew to 14 feet, with only incremental impact on the total project cost. Plus, I gained a bed, bath and larger dining room.)
Reversing the analogy, this means that what starts as a market research assignment might evolve to an assignment that positively informs many teams – marketing, communications, human resources and operations are the most common. If there are only a few good chances of capturing a research audience, we try to maximize the opportunity for every stakeholder.
We have also begun to coach that market research is a mindset, not a project. We are working to leverage research findings across many groups and different research efforts. There is an emerging field of research asset management to prolong the utility and depth of the institutional knowledge most organizations now possess.
Market research can work harder, be more expeditious, and more meaningful than it ever has. But knowing it can be more expensive, be sure to involve an experienced researcher to find the highest and best use of your organization’s inquiries. Because today, almost every research group is hard to reach.