As the pace of commerce—indeed, the world—continues to accelerate, one of the most critical factors in business is information agility. You must move, not just fast, but intelligently.

So, why is it that so many marketing decisions continue to be based solely on instinct? Why does critical information take so long to uncover and cost so much to access? And why is it so difficult to use?

Certainly some of the blame lies with the market research industry. For too long, we’ve made quantitative research too cumbersome, too slow moving, too broad to be useful on a practical level.

Most surveys start with the assumption that we know nothing. Consequently, we end up collecting too much redundant information. Questionnaires are too complicated, involving multiple development and review cycles. Analyses take too long to perform and their granular detail is too often out of synch with business decision-making timelines. Reports and statistical manipulations are based too much on theory and not enough on pragmatic answers and concrete direction.

Meanwhile, the marketplace, which has little tolerance for abstract—and especially slow-moving—concepts, drives on.

There is, of course, a critical role for sophisticated quantitative research in developing marketing intelligence. Multivariate analysis, modeling and advanced analytics all play a vital role in sizing markets, planning expenditures and guiding major investments. But our experience shows that those types of studies account for only 10-20% of the potential utility of quantitative research.

At the same time, there’s a sea of tactical issues that marketers confront on a daily basis that call for quantification—issues like prioritizing customer needs and requirements, measuring brand awareness, message testing or pre-market refinement of proposed packaging. And certainly the ubiquitous questions of how many, how often, how big, how important. Issues that should be measured and quantified, rather than estimated or ignored.

These fast-paced times call for a quick response alternative to behemoth studies. Marketers need reliable, functional, solution-centered data that are quickly and easily accessible. Data they can rely on when both budgets and time are tight.

We’ve found that by throwing out many of the assumptions and approaches concerning traditional quantitative research, these goals can be achieved.

Here’s a new approach:

Start at the End

By clearly defining the objectives of the research before embarking on the study, you can bound its scope, preventing project creep. It’s always easier to focus on the goal when you’ve clearly identified it.

Build on What’s Already There

Invariably, studies come with a hidden context. There are troves of undiscovered data that can inform significant parts of your study. Start by looking as existing transactional and other behavioral data. And don’t forget to review your prior research to ensure that you are clear on what you already know.

Forget About the “Nice-to-Knows”

By focusing on the relevant information, you make the study more efficient (read, less costly) and the report more useful. Any extraneous—albeit, interesting—information only makes the process, and the findings, more cumbersome.

Just the Right Amount

The quality of the data is much more important than the volume. Define the scope, objectives and level of quantification before you start. Then stick to it.

And, perhaps most importantly…

Focus on Verbs

Broad, sweeping studies that focus on barely tangible concepts have their place and their value. And both are in academia. You want to collect data with an eye toward specific actions that move your business ahead.

Leave the deeper studies of society at large to people with more time on their hands.

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