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Is Your Focus Strategic or Tactical? Why Not Both?

If you’ve been in market research for awhile, you probably have sat through more than your share of meetings where horns have locked on the best approach with those who have a strategic voice often at odds with the more tactical assessments.

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By Ellen Woods

In most research organizations the research is primarily tactical with the more strategic initiatives left to other areas. If you’ve been at this awhile, you probably have sat through more than your share of meetings where horns have locked on the best approach with those who have a strategic voice often at odds with the more tactical assessments.

In fact, that is one of the biggest reasons why digital marketing has changed the face of most marketing organizations and why, in many organizations, market research finds itself struggling to stay relevant.

Tactical research is far cheaper to execute and provides answers to specific questions. It usually has little impact beyond the question or project at hand unless normatives are involved and the execution is usually done quickly. Therefore, it wasn’t a big surprise that it became the basis for tracking and the method of choice when Internet research made frequent data collection cheaper and quicker and at least by “time to the boardroom”, better.

Therein lies the rub.

Cheaper, quicker, better worked for research up until the time data analytics entered the stage. By design, the research was meant to be directional and it was quickly discovered that most people would barely sit through a fifteen minute instrument, let alone longer without an incentive. What happened next is a reality we are living, but it’s important to understand that even in the glory days of trackers and long surveys, there were market scientists who were looking for more. The short term solution was self-administered surveys that provided insight to more specific questions and allowed dwindling outside panels to be reserved for the larger surveys. Then came communities, the power and value of which was solely in the hands of the administrator. Planning was hard and in many cases, respondents became bored. Surveys came fast and furious from the check-outs, pop-ups, special requests and direct mail.

The need for speed accelerated and as it did, mobile technology changed the playing field and tactical surveys became even shorter and less effective.

The strategist on the other hand, being the turtle chasing the rabbit, decided to invest in the data. As data analytics became widely accepted, first with real time transaction measurements, the power of existing data began to flourish. The camps, now fully divided, took their corners and their cases moved to the boardroom.

In all fairness, data analytics can never replace tactical evaluations. While “data” can provide context, on its own, it can never answer the all-important why or how questions. Tactical research does a really good job of identifying what doesn’t work but not such a good job of identifying what does. Neither tells us how or why choices were made.

The strategist understood this dilemma far earlier than those of us seeing the trees rather than the forest. Enter stage left, behavioral analytics.

Behavioral measurements have the same problems that plague tactical research, because humans often aren’t logical. Measurements exist largely in snapshots and aggregation was iffy at best.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, digital marketing was advancing rapidly and taking market analytics along with it. Geo-location, search incorporation and the general big brother nature of data measurements was advancing rapidly into a science know as predictive marketing.

Many researchers, still stubbornly stuck in quagmires of quadrants were now trying to understand neuroscience and patterning to create relevancy.

Strategists understood what they didn’t know and they knew many of their answers were in the data, lots of data. By harnessing IT to “sort” the data, a new model was emerging. Applying behavioral measurements to data began to yield a new kind of segment, the kind that exists in real time and has relevancy to the problems at hand. Enough data, they thought and there is an ability to predict at least what the range of reactions might yield for some very specific populations.

The best part, it could match activities in real time. As most researchers and strategists understand, people often say what they think is wanted in a survey, interview or community, or they have an agenda. Now, we know what they actually do. When the pieces of the puzzle are connected, we know why.

But there is still a piece of the puzzle missing. We don’t know to what extent. That’s where the tactical aspect of market research loops back into the picture. Short surveys, communities, tactical assessments (taste tests, IDI, etc.) yield a great deal of insight into the potential success of products and services and they tell us in real time how we are doing.

Concept, product and advertising tests yield an assessment of the degree of potential success. Since we know the range of possibilities within our strategic assessments, we can now understand the degree within a specific circumstance and with a very discreet audience. We are one step closer to an ROI and a lot closer to meaningful assessments.

As mobile usage becomes more dominant, the options for data collection grow ever narrower, but the options for better, faster and more useful information grow exponentially. The biggest danger in any new method is the damage is does to the consumer or corporate buyer. The next big frontier for market research may be in determining the responsible use of data, especially if the trend toward more localized purchasing continues to accelerate.

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