Doing Research Will Supercharge Your Marketing

If you want to improve your marketing start doing your research

Marketing Research

What enters your mind when you think of research? Is it people in white coats with microscopes and beakers like the picture above?

When I think of research I often think of when I was in college and sitting in the library pouring over academic articles I might use as part of a paper I was writing.

The fact is research is much more than either of these two examples.

The secret that rarely gets talked about is research is an important step on the path to your marketing success.

You can have the smartest and most amazing marketing team that has ever been put together but if you haven’t done your research it won’t matter. The strategic plan your team designs won’t be anything better than average because they won’t have the necessary information needed. That’s if you’re lucky.

If you don’t like to research, I know I’m giving you bad news. I realize it can feel slow and kind of painful but research is a cornerstone to great marketing and public relations.

A Failure of Research

This is typically where I take a step back and give a definition so that we have a common meaning going forward but this week, let’s start with a story.

Recently I was watching a program on the History Channel about the Cola Wars between Coke and Pepsi. It was part of a series called The Food That Built America.

In 1975 Pepsi came up with a stunt called “The Pepsi Challenge” which continued into the 80s. You would be given two cups of cola. One with Pepsi and the other with Coke. After tasting both, you would then tell the testers which one you liked best and then they would reveal which one you chose.

Pepsi was winning the challenge but only by a slight margin. It was enough though, that Pepsi executives decided to run with it and make the results a part of its marketing.

Pepsi Challenge Commercial – 1983

At this time, Pepsi was more of a regional company while Coke did business around the world and was one of the most valuable brands on the planet. However, “The Pepsi Challenge” and the marketing around it helped Pepsi pick up market share from Coke.

Coke didn’t believe the results at first but losing market share led it to do its own taste tests internally. It was mortified to find that it wasn’t just a cheap marketing gimmick, Pepsi really was winning in a head-to-head taste test.

Coke became convinced that it needed to do something or the company would continue to lose market share to Pepsi so executives hatched an idea to come up with a new formula for its cola.

They did research and found the new sweeter tasting formula they had created was preferred to Pepsi and in 1985, Coke introduced New Coke which replaced its 99 year old product.

For those of you who may not have been born yet or have never heard this story, you might be thinking that the moral is Coke did its research and beat Pepsi with the new product. It didn’t work out this way.

Instead, it turned into a major public relations issue for Coke as people were outraged that it would change its nearly century-old formula.

This excerpt from the History Channel explains:

New Coke left a bitter taste in the mouths of the company’s loyal customers. Within weeks of the announcement, the company was fielding 5,000 angry phone calls a day. By June, that number grew to 8,000 calls a day, a volume that forced the company to hire extra operators. “I don’t think I’d be more upset if you were to burn the flag in our front yard,” one disgruntled drinker wrote to company headquarters. At protests staged by grassroots groups such as “Old Cola Drinkers of America,” consumers poured the contents of New Coke bottles into sewer drains. One Seattle consumer even filed suit against the company to force it to provide the old drink.

The outrage caught Coca-Cola executives by surprise. They had hardly made a rash decision unsupported by data. After all, they had performed 190,000 blind taste tests on U.S. and Canadian consumers. The problem, though, is that the company had underestimated loyal drinkers’ emotional attachments to the brand. Never did its market research testers ask subjects how they would feel if the new formula replaced the old one.

Why Coca-Cola’s ‘New Coke’ Flopped — History Channel

Coke had done the research and the result was a product disaster.

Now, this might seem like an odd story to tell in an article that is pro-research but it’s an important lesson.

Coke did what many companies have done. Research was done but it wasn’t complete. Coke was only worried about the formula and the end result of it being picked by more people as the best-tasting cola.

As was pointed out in the excerpt, it ignored what became the most important issue for consumers. New Coke wasn’t being introduced as a product that would sit alongside original Coke. It was a replacement for the old product and this wasn’t welcome news to Coke drinkers.

Long story short, Coke brought back the old formula less than three months after New Coke was introduced. Dubbed Coca-Cola Classic, sales went through the roof.

New Coke would sit alongside its classic counterpart but wouldn’t last. Eventually, New Coke, which had been rebranded Coke II, was put out of its misery and Coca-Cola Classic was once again just Coke.

More importantly for Coke, they clobbered Pepsi.

Essentially, Coke only did what’s called quantitative research and this is what doomed its actions.

Coke failed to do any qualitative research that would have told them that changing the formula for its iconic product could be a problem.

So, what is quantitative and qualitative research, and why are they important? I’m glad you asked.

What is Quantitative Research?

Quantitative research involves gathering numerical data. A simpler way to say this is that you’re measuring things.

If you want to know how many people are visiting your website, you go into your analytical tool of choice (I use Google Analytics) and you can find a number. It’s cut and dry.

Let’s look at a real-world example.

What was Tesla’s revenue in 2020 vs 2019?

In 2019 revenue was $24.6 billion. Revenue rose to $31.5 billion in 2020. What was the profit in both these years? In 2019 it lost $862 million but in 2020, profit rose to $721 million (yes, these are real numbers).

If I apply this to marketing you can find definitive numbers that will tell you how many people are opening your marketing emails or the click-through rate in the link you included in the email, plus many other important points of data.

On your website, you can see click rate, time on page, how many pages people visited while on your website, the number of visits each page.

This is all quantitative data because the answer is expressed as a number or, if you will, a quantity.

What is Qualitative Research?

Qualitative research is non-numerical. It goes beyond the numbers and aims to add depth and insight.

It’s questions like:

  • What do people like about your product?
  • What would they change?
  • What kind of content would they like to see in the future?
  • What information were you looking for today?
  • How did you hear about our product?
  • Why do you use our product over our competitors?

I think you get the idea. Qualitative research helps you answer the who, why, what, when, where, and how questions. It’s the type of questions that numbers don’t answer.

How do you get qualitative data? Through interviews, observation (first-hand or participant), questionnaires, and focus groups.

Quantitative and Qualitative Research Should Work Together

Years ago I read an article that included a quote by a baseball manager in which he said, “Statistics may not lie but they don’t tell the whole truth.”

I was working at Intel at the time and this really resonated with me because we were very data-driven. The quantitative data management had never seemed to square with my actual experience, the qualitative data.

The best research combines quantitative and qualitative data. Doing this gives you a well rounded picture.

For instance, you might be trying to discover why people don’t want to get vaccinated for COVID.

Your quantitative research tells you that 21% of people in your county don’t want to be vaccinated (I’m making this number up) but it doesn’t tell you why.

At this point, you could use a questionnaire or do some interviews to discover people’s concerns.

If you are doing marketing and communications, you need to know this information so you can address their concerns in your messaging.

You may find that people are concerned about the vaccination because they heard if you have allergies there could have an adverse reaction that could put them in the hospital or worse, kill them.

You now have a better idea of why 21% of people are concerned about the vaccination and you can use this information to create messages which address what people actually care about.

Do Your Research

Most people want to see immediate results so they jump right into tactics. By doing this they have jumped to the end. It starts with research. Then you create a strategic plan and finally, you execute.

Research will propel you in the right direction but as we’ve talked about, your research shouldn’t just be a bunch of numbers. You need to understand the meaning behind those numbers.

Going back to the Coke story from the beginning of the article. Coke had all sorts of quantitative data but it failed to get any qualitative data that would have told them, “Do not replace our Coke with New Coke.”

Coke fought the battle with only half the research it needed. Because they were such a big company with many resources, Coke was able to endure its mistake and right the ship.

You may not be so lucky. Learn from Coke. Do your research.

*Photo by Edward Jenner from Pexels

Shane Carpenter