Recession busting research tips

When you're low on fuel, its even more important you take the best possible route to your destination. Not only do you need a map, but you need a map with the fuel stations clearly marked.

In business, research is that map.

When economic storm clouds gather, businesses and organisations naturally to look to cut back on their spending. And research, like advertising, is often one of those areas that is first to be cut back.

Yet I'd argue that research can be a key to businesses survival and growth, especially in the toughest economic times. But there is little room for waste and frivolous spending. When recession looms - and the debate out there suggests it may well do - the focus needs to be on getting the biggest possible business bang for your research buck.

The research balancing act

Research balancing factorsResearch is always a compromise - a fine balancing act between cost, speed, accuracy and relevance.

There is a reason researchers don't census the whole population every single time they need a question answered. It would cost a fortune, it would take forever and the usefulness of the results to the business wouldn't be so much greater than if they'd just asked some of the people.

Similarly, valuable insight rarely comes free. The accuracy, trustworthiness, reliability and most importantly actionability of information tends to come with a proportionate price tag, whether you are conducting research in house or bringing in outside experts.

But here are five tips that will help ensure your research stays as lean as it is effective.

So how do you get more results from less research spending?

1) Ditch the duplicated efforts

There is a tendency in larger organisations for different teams and project groups to commission their own new research, when the answers already sit in work done by different teams and departments. Existing research, if read with an open mind, can be usefully applied to new questions.

Instead of spending on overlapping research, invest in formally pooling what you already have within the organisation and start using what you already paid for. It may take a little effort to make the research available in accessible, easy to digest chunks - but in a larger organisation, those efforts will soon pay for themselves.

Doing more with the research you have also has the benefit of reducing participation fatigue amongst those key contacts being asked their opinion for the umpteenth time!

2) Work with the data you already have

Be creative. Half eaten lunch portions, sewage outflow, postcodes, website data, customer testimonials/complaints, stock usage rates, footfall and basic business data can all be used to reap actionable insight. Think about all the contact points that occur in your business and look for the associated evidence trails. Using data you already have generally has immediacy, low costs and high relevance. Working with it smartly can also make it accurate and actionable.

3) Has someone else already found the answer?

Before you commission research or set a staff member to undertake a project, it is also worth thinking about whether the answers you need already exist externally.

Yes the Internet is full of data, some of it useful, much of it wrong. So when using easily accessible, free information online information, have your quality control filters set to extra high. There are some free sources I do use regularly - National Statistics, Google Trends and ComScore's public releases to name a few. But I always pay close attention to accuracy, timeliness and proximity to the data source (meaning whether the data is a third hand repetition/distortion, or comes direct from the researchers themselves).

Quality research generally costs money. However, purchasing a relevant, recent analyst's report will generally be more cost effective than undertaking the same research yourself. (As long as it addresses your key questions).

You may also find that your local council, chamber of commerce or development agency may already have commissioned research in the field you are interested in. Some smart web searching is likely to reveal this, even if it doesn't show you the findings. It then does no harm to call and find out if you can see this research - they may even have an internal library you can visit.

These organisations also more likely to subscribe to longitudinal research, like long term footfall studies and market trends. Even if they can't give you direct access to the research, there may be a knowledgeable contact willing to discuss the findings with you.

4) Consider teaming up with others when commissioning research

The DIY research route is not always the best approach and there are certainly times when bringing in the experts will deliver you more accurate, useful insight in a shorter timeframe.

One option to reduce costs of commissioned research is to team up with one or more non-competitive parties. With jointly commissioned research, you can agree to share the findings openly amongst all parties or pre-agree who will have access to what findings. (Just bare in mind overcomplicating things can erode the cost savings of sharing).

5) Will it make your roadmap clearer?

Keep your recession busting research very goal and strategy focussed.

The "so what?" factor matters more than ever when times are tough and "it'd be nice to know.." has to be replaced with business critical questions.

Think of it as though your business road map is made up of Google Earth pictures - and the resolution of some of those images is pretty poor. In times of potential recession, your research needs to be sharpening those images until the resolution is acceptable enough for you to more clearly see the dangers and opportunities en route. And then you need to act swiftly and decisively based on what you see.

No need to ditch the research completely

Whether or not we do see conditions of economic recession, there are already plenty of businesses who are limiting their spending where they can.

I hope these tips show that rather than throwing the research road map out of the window completely when times get tough, there are instead ways to make it work far harder at delivering tangible business results.

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