keep calm homeworkMarketing and communications professionals love, LOVE having proprietary data to use.  For us, data is transformed into brand positioning, front page headlines, lead generation, thought leadership, engaging content and more.  A research project chocker-box full of cross-tab data and qualitative insights is a pot of gold at the end of magical rainbow for a creative communications team.  It is!

Before you write a research project, here are five tips to help ensure you get meaningful and useful insight. Your mom said it best, “do your homework!”

1. Determine what organizations are already doing research. It’s hard to find a research topic that no one has explored.  Conduct an environmental scan to determine who is engaging and sharing research: your competitor, an academic institution, a consulting group, a non-profit or a foundation.  Understanding what organizations are producing research will help you understand what voice is missing and how your organization fits into that landscape.

I love research

2. What are they researching? Simply put: avoid over saturated topics. In the case of healthcare, we have produced a library full of good research on children’s health, opinion polls about the Affordable Care Act, and health-related risk behaviors. It is really hard to provide a unique perspective in this environment.  It is equally hard to SEO and AdWord buy your way to the top of a Google search for an over saturated topic.  And even harder, when you’re up against national government agencies and well-respected research organizations doing similar research.

3. Assess what research methodologies have been previously used.  This is especially important when the topic you want to research is saturated– perhaps there is a missing methodology?  For instance, maybe you really want to research children’s health and your “homework” reveals that no one has done qualitative, one-on-one interviews with middle-school teachers to understand the role they play in child wellness and mental health. Congratulations, you now have a unique approach.

4. What vision do you have for your research project?  Is this the start of an annual survey, maybe you’re doing some benchmarking, or it could be the beginning of a user-journey or emotional mapping assessment?  Understanding how you and others in your organization will use this research will help you determine the best approach to take.  It will also help you plan for marketing strategies and corresponding budgets.

whisky-legs5. Finally, ask yourself the tough question – does your topic have legs?  A good glass of Scotch served neat should have legs.  In other words, the Scotch should be visible as it streaks down the glass.  When you think about what your research could reveal – survey data you can sort by region, gender, and socioeconomic status (RWJF’s County Health Rankings a favorite research go-to), or first-person insights that provide deep context – you should also be able to see the multiple stories your research will tell.  Is it “mediagenic” and likely to appeal to your target media outlets?  Can you envision video content for display in the second-most used search engine, YouTube?  Will you be able to repurpose it with key opinion leaders and policy makers?  Can you create materials (Examples: using data in consumer health) that help your business or organization grow?  If so, it has legs.

When done right, research can be the gift that keeps giving.  Ask yourself these five questions before you start drafting so the research you undertake is current, comparative and conversation-worthy and the “pot of gold” you’re seeking.

What research have you done lately that helped achieve your organizational goals? Did you do your “homework?”

 

Photo credits: FlipBoard, UCL and The Keep Calm-O-Matic