What You Can Learn From the Government's Wasted Research Investment

Spend More Time Fixing Problems Than Studying Them

By Published on .

You're not going to believe what the government learned this month! As reported on the cover of every major newspaper in the United States, it turns out that our sedentary jobs are making us fat. It took two departments of the government to find out that we weighed 170 pounds on average in the 1960s, when we had to be more active on the job, and now we're up to 202 pounds. No really, it's true! If you sit at a desk all day and then scarf down 4,000 calories at Applebee's, you will get fat.

Undoubtedly, millions of tax dollars were spent on this incredible research project. Any third-grader could have found the same results within three minutes of casual observation.

It is great that the government is investing in studying the obesity epidemic. The problem is that they spent our money unwisely. Rather than finding one of the obvious causes, they should have invested in fixing the problem. The same is probably true of your company's research investments.

Your company probably spends millions studying your target audience. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with these investments -- it is critical to focus on the consumers you serve. Just like the government, though, you probably spend too much on identifying the problems and not enough on fixing them.

The typical in-depth primary research project costs in the neighborhood of $100,000. But most of these projects result in unread reports or -- even more frustrating -- an inability to make changes based on the reports. Corporate budgets should be adjusted so that less money is spent on identifying every problem and more is spent on creating collaborative, multi-disciplinary teams to actually fix the ones that most need fixing.

Look at your website, for example. Is it a critical way that you communicate with customers and prospects? Is it clean and simple or cluttered with information overload? Do you really need 12 paid strangers to point out the problems in a usability test , or is there some other barrier to taking action?

I recommend establishing a small task force that includes finance, strategic planning, marketing, analytics and market research to identify and prioritize opportunities to improve customer experience. Then, determine if you need additional research to identify the problems or if you need additional resources to fix the problems that you already know about. Chances are, you will be able to shift some of your money and time to making immediate improvements rather than investing in another big research study. Going back to the website example, you might not need a moderator and paid research respondents. Your money might be better spent on an information architect, graphic designer and decent programmer. The point is not to trivialize research. The goal is to make it even more effective by shifting some budget out of the department and more into integration with other departments.

Note that the operative word is "integration," which is very hard for large companies to do. You can't always simply shift the budget to other departments. It is critical to shift to new processes and teams that are specifically tasked with making changes based on research findings. If you misinterpret this advice and shift budgets from research to other departments, you will only exacerbate the problem. The key is to shift resources specifically towards developing a team with the express goal of creating product, service and marketing changes based on consumers' unmet needs.

Through this process, everyone will win -- most importantly, your customers. Research will not be eradicated even though budgets may be reduced. Instead, research will become the hero as your brand is finally able to make tangible changes that bring value to your customers.

Jeff Rosenblum is founding partner of Questus, a digitally-led advertising agency with offices in New York and San Francisco.
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