I grew up in the state of Idaho in a town of 50,000 people called Idaho Falls. Idaho Falls is not known for much. It has a lot of rural area, farms full of potatoes, and a Budweiser plant. The primary employer in the area is the Idaho National Laboratory, who hires about 8,000 employees and stores spent nuclear fuel. I wasn't very adept at storing spent nuclear fuels (heaven forbid I'm in charge of THAT...we'd have all been doomed) so I got involved with market research.
If you've ever traveled the I-15 freeway north, you may have driven through Idaho Falls on your way to Yellowstone National Park. Growing up in a fairly small town had its ups and downs. Generally, aside from the dollar movies, we were forced to find our own forms of entertainment. We didn't occupy our time with the "luxuries" of today, i.e. video games (it only took so long to beat Pitfall), computers, the internet, mobile phones, texting, etc. that seem to suck every spare minute from today's teens. We spent a lot of time exploring our surroundings, playing sports, and getting into trouble.
It's funny how things change. As a youth, I spent time at a swimming pool and waterslide called "Thunder Ridge" that was located in the foothills on the east side of the city. My high school graduation party was located at this pool. The graduation party had to have been one of Thunder Ridge's last major events because within a matter of a year after the party, the operation was closed down.
For many years after its closure, Thunder Ridge and it's waterslide continued to stand in an increasingly dilapidated condition. In an attempt to find something to do, my buddies, brothers, etc. and I used to go to Thunder Ridge and ride down the slide on a skateboard and an ice-block. Here's how it worked. We'd go to the slide at night (police would kick you out if they found you there) and sneak, quietly, up to the slide (neighbors would call the police if they noticed you there). We'd make sure that we had a couple of safety equipment items...Converse All-Stars, Levi's 501 Jeans, long sleeved flannel shirts, gloves and a flashlight. The flashlight was placed at the bottom of the slide. You'll recall from your own waterslide experiences that at the end of any waterslide is a drop into a pool. It was extremely important to know when your ride was about to end so you weren't shot off the ledge into the empty, muddy, abandoned pool (happened more than once). We'd hike to the entrance of the slide and lay on our stomachs on the skateboard. We'd ride the skateboard down tail-end first, placing the ice-block under the tail so that we didn't get "death wobble". The ice-block was slippery enough to allow for the curves and transitions in the waterslide. We'd ride the skateboard/ice-block combination down headfirst so that we could hold the ice-block under the skateboard as we rode (using the gloves). The long-sleeve shirt and Levi's jeans were important to avoid road rash if/when we fell off the screaming-fast contraption. The Converse All-Stars were used as brakes. The instant that you saw the flashlight at the bottom, or sped up too fast, you dragged your All-Stars on the edges of the slide. You can imagine how scary-fun this experience was as we'd scream down the slide a million miles an hour, hoping that we could stop in time to avoid being shot out the end...falling four feet into a muddy, dirty, trash-filled, pool.
As you manage and work at your business or for your employer (whether you're a market research group or any other type of company), as you conduct your market research, your healthcare research, or operate your MROC (Market Research Online Community), as you survey your customers or patients, etc. do you ever feel like you have been placed in a business situation like this? Do you ever go through your business life feeling like you are being sucked down a path that is going too fast and that you can only hope turns out well in the end? If so, I have a few suggestions:
- Slow Down - Many of us take on WAY too many things at once. At some point or another, we've all done this. Slow down and focus, prioritize and accomplish the items that will have the biggest impact on your business first, especially if they are the easiest to knock out. When you're learning how to ride a skateboard down a waterslide, it's important that you slow down...at least the first time so you understand the process.
- Learn How to Steer - You can actually steer a skateboard and an ice-block. Have you learned to steer your business? Market research will help steer you to informed decision making. If your business sells a product or services a client (we all do), collect customer feedback, understand your patient satisfaction, do your product research. If you are involved in a market research organization, work on your market research techniques so that you can effectively deliver the results of your market research data collection in concise ways that answer your customer's research needs.
- Use the "Right" Equipment - Just like it is extremely important to wear gloves, jeans, long-sleeve shirts, and sneakers on this kind of "ride", it's important that you use the right equipment when conducting your market research. There are some really great market research products and services available in the industry...and there are some really crappy ones. The crappy ones will steer you in directions you don't want to go, gather information that doesn't represent your target audience, and lead you to decisions that may not have the impact on your business that you'd hoped. For those of us that are involved in market research, it's extremely important for us to have stable platforms, that produce accurate results, and deliver on what is expected. We should evaluate our platforms for "fit" regularly.
- Check for Obstacles - I'm embarrassed to admit that on one occasion I did NOT check for obstacles in the slide. Idaho Falls has a tremendous amount of wind. As it aged, the slide dilapidated and the wind actually blew one of the slide's top pieces inside the slide. I ran into this "slide-part" at a million miles an hour breaking four of my fingers. The best equipment in the world couldn't offset my own stupidity. The obstacles that you need to consider when conducting market research projects are your market research methods. It is important that you understand the method that will best answer your market research question. Whether your market research study should use quantitative market research vs. qualitative market research depends on what you're trying to accomplish. Whether you should collect customer or patient surveys vs. conducting a focus group vs. using an MROC (Market Research Online Community) depends on what you're trying to accomplish. Whether you should use online vs. face to face vs. telephone or IVR methods also depends on what you're trying to accomplish. Don't automatically assume that a specific method "fits" your research question...simply because it's a "hot" collection method at the time. Each method of collection has its obstacles and advantages.
- Use the Buddy System - It's important that you surround yourself with people who know what they're doing and have your best interest in mind. When I broke my four fingers my "buddy" had to drive me home. Not all market research companies are the same. Each has a specific group of methods, experiences, and foci. Has your market research provider ever said "No - I don't think we're the best fit for that particular project?" Surround yourself with a group of people that you trust and that can and will deliver and will be honest with you when they can't. Market research companies need to be that buddy.