We here in the research bunker discuss a fair amount of football in our downtime and during our lunch breaks.  So, with the NFL Playoffs just around the corner, we figured we would use today to take an interest of ours and craft a blog post out of it – by relating it to market research.  As a die-hard New York Giants fan, it’s a quick and easy way for me to reflect on the 2010 season and hopefully learn a couple of things from a market research perspective (of course), maybe like why I should cease from being a Giants fan…

Here are four key takeaways from market research:

1. Don’t start finalizing plans/actions until all the data has been collected.


From an analyst standpoint, you are trained to review the data as it comes in from the fieldwork.  You run frequency checks to test response patterns, routing and sample dispositions.  You may have only collected 400 of your 1,000 completes for the online survey, but (you can’t help it) you begin reading into the data.  Your client is asking you how the tested concepts are presenting in the conjoint sequence and you know at the end of the project they have to pick one and only one.  Each concept only differs by about 3-4%, yet they ask you for the one with the highest likelihood to purchase.  Obviously, in this situation, you should stress the margin of error and how the statistics could change over the next 600 completes.  The last thing you want to happen is for the client to relay the message that Concept B is the leading candidate and as a result, they begin to make internal decisions and draft strategies for Concept B before fieldwork has ended.

Spin: Were the Giants placing orders for NFC East division champion hats with about 8:00 to go in the Eagles game three weeks ago?  Were they making playoff plans and thinking about football in late January?  As in market research, it’s sometimes necessary to wait until fieldwork ends before taking the next step.  So, as the Giants found out, they may have been caught looking ahead in Week 15 of the NFL season.  Their margin of error for playoff football was a +/- 21 point lead with 8:00 to go at the 0% confidence interval.  You guessed it, they lost and they missed the playoffs.  It’s better off to wait until fieldwork has ended and nothing will change before formulating marketing strategies on the data.


2. Sometimes little statistics matter.


Every survey has a focused set of goal(s).  In a lot of cases, one question is really all the client cares about.  In reality, every single question in a survey should be a value-added to your market research study, if it doesn’t add value, it shouldn’t be asked in the first place (respondents will thank you for trimming time anyway).  Even the demographic questions asked at the end of the survey provide plenty of insight into the analysis.  Running cross-tabs on age, gender, income, etc. can lead to findings that you may not have uncovered or even thought about previously.  All statistics – even the little ones like demographics – matter.

Spin: I call this the “Matt Dodge” effect.  Punters are little known players in the NFL, but when you lose sight of how important their impact of not performing is detrimental to your team, you set yourself up for disappointment.  The way Matt Dodge performed this year for the Giants, one would think he had never punted a football in his life, ever, and that’s being nice.  Now that the Giants have evaluated him over the course of a season and seen him cost his team time and time again, perhaps they underestimated the value of an afterthought position like a punter.  Don’t forget about the overlooked questions in your script when you are reporting.


3. You don’t always get what you pay for.


You are an up and coming business, revenue has tripled each of the past few years and you are ready to set aside a larger budget for market research.  Your regional presence is turning into a national presence, so you figure you need to go with a larger market research firm that can cater to your needs. Conversely, there are lots of smaller firms across the globe who can offer the same professional work and capabilities. More often than not, as a smaller firm they can give you the attention your projects deserve rather than being tagged as ‘just another client.’  Even better, they probably charge less.  Market research doesn’t have to be expensive to be well done.

Spin: Sure, no one is going to argue what Eli Manning did for the Giants a few years ago, when he led his team to a Superbowl victory.  But last year, the Giants signed Eli Manning to make him the highest paid NFL quarterback at the time.  I think everyone can agree, based on performance alone, he is not the best quarterback in the NFL.  Turnovers plagued this Giants team all season long, and Eli “the other” Manning threw 25 interceptions this past season – most in the league.  Clearly, for this season alone the Giants did not get what they paid for; don’t fall in the same trap by hiring a mega-firm.


4. In the end, stability and experience pays off.


Choosing a market research agency that you’ve worked with in the past offers major benefits.  You know the people who work there and you even learn a little about the market research process; in return, the firm learns you and your business – which helps us form better recommendations for you going forward.  Creating a retainer relationship with a market research agency creates a consultant-like atmosphere.  The market research firm can almost act as “your back office,” being able to handle ad-hoc requests accurately and timely.

Spin: Although I was not a fan of Giants’ head coach Tom Coughlin at the start, I do like the stability the Giants organization is showing the past few years.  They stick with the same owner, front office and coaches/coordinators (for the most part).  There is something to stability within franchises, see the Steelers success throughout NFL history, and more recently Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in New England.  Using a proven system/vendor that has worked time and time for you in the past only fosters more success and better insights down the road.

(Note: If the Giants miss the playoffs next year you can scratch #4 off this list.)