First, let's talk research

3 minute read

As communicators, we often suggest campaigns, techniques and tactics that influence the actions of others to meet a desired outcome.  Whether it's consumers buying a product or motivating the public toward political activity, we are constantly evaluating the message and medium that resonates best with our target audience.  

But, do we actually understand our audience?

When developing broad communications strategies, there’s often limited communication between the communicator and audience. At best, we often guess using preconceived notions about a specific group. Without understanding the audience, we have to navigate through our own ideas and resist the temptations of our biases.

According to Jamie Duncan, a 15-year veteran pollster and vice president of the Canadian division of global research firm, Ipsos, “To strengthen your communications strategy, develop a research plan that assesses your strengths and weaknesses, uncovers the truth about what people believe and why they believe it, and gives you meaningful key performance indicators to track your performance.”

So, let’s talk research.

We’ve uncovered a few insights to get communicators to question their objectivity and develop a clear path to test ideas and strengthen their communications programs.

What’s in it for me?

Maintaining and building your reputation can be a volatile business. Perceptions can change based on political pressures, news events or the success or failure of marketing campaigns.

Understanding the perceptions of others will inform the messages and tactics that you use to meet your desired outcome. In communications research, organizations commonly test three different factors.

First, test your reputation. What do consumers or the public think of your organization and why? Second, dissect the values that people attach to you. What do people associate in relation to your organization and how does it compare to your company principles? And lastly, once your strategies are implemented, test them to see if they worked.

What’s most important to measure?

Trust. This is a value that we all relate to personally and professionally. Trust impacts how we engage with other people, governments, organizations or corporate entities.

Duncan suggests that the medium or message doesn’t matter if your audience does not trust your product, position or service offering. An effective research program will explore ideas that contribute or take away from trust.

One favourite exercise of Duncan’s is to ask research participants to list words that describe the product, position or offering. Just as important, he notes, are the words that they do not use. If your messages are not highlighted, you’ve got some work to do.

What’s the best way to reach people?

Everyone has a different way of providing feedback. To understand the best way to reach your audience, examine these factors.

First, is the methodology correct for your research goals? If your questions are better answered visually, then a visual representation through a web presence is better suited than telephone surveys. Second, what is the most effective means of communication for your geographic target area? Some regions of Canada have limited connectivity and understanding the preferred feedback method will yield higher participation. And last and most important, are you confident that the circle of people that you’ve spoken to represents your target audience? Getting the information from the people you seek to influence is paramount to an effective communications strategy.

Are external factors at play?

There are factors that are outside of your control. Political movements, current events or even opposing marketing campaigns. These external factors can change your research results. Don’t worry. A credible research program will examine trends from a longitudinal perspective, examining the same variables over time to understand trends across the lifespan of your program. In this vein, the dips caused by factors outside of your control will only be a blip on the radar.    


Chelsie KlassenComment