Let's let go of our Asperger tendencies when designing questionnaires.


good conversationalist.jpgLet's be honest. When we researchers are designing questionnaires we can demonstrate Asperger characteristics. Think of the last questionnaire you wrote, then look over this list and see if any of these ring true for you. 

Asperger's Characteristics

Screen Shot 2017-02-24 at 8.28.23 AM.png

See what I mean? 

Don't get me wrong, I'm not poking fun at people with Asperger's. I tend to gravitate to people with Asperger's because if I find a topic they are passionate about I learn a ton and never have to share anything about myself (this comes in particularly handy at family parties). 

My point is, let's loosen up a little in the language we use in questionnaires. Make it a little more conversational and engaging, a little less stiff and robotic. 

Here are some tips when writing your next questionnaire:

  1. Show genuine interest in your respondent
  2. Use information they've shared to ask deeper questions going forward
  3. Focus on positive aspects, warm them to feeling good 
  4. Create a platform that is open and respectful of their opinions
  5. Look for ways to put your respondent in their best light
  6. Ask purposeful questions
  7. Share back with them
  8. End with a sincere thank you

One of the tricks I use when I'm struggling with how to write a question is to imagine that the person is in front of me; if I were having a conversation with him or her, how would I ask this question? I type that out, then adjust.

Good luck!


How to deepen engagement with your panel members


A reader recently submitted this question on my website:

Do you have any suggestions on the best way to engage panel members?

Yes I do! The best way to engage panel members is to have authentic exchanges with them. Get to know them. Ask questions you don't need the answers to, but demonstrates your interest in them. You might be surprised what you find out along the way that will be helpful. Share information about yourself too.

Here are some fun example questions:

Which of the following do you have in your house:

  • Kids under age 5
  • Kids ages 5 to 12
  • Kids ages 13 to 18
  • Kids over 18
  • Dog(s)
  • Cat(s)
  • Fish
  • None of the above (i.e. a clean house)

Which one of the following are most likely to over consume:

  • Ice cream
  • Chocolate chip cookies
  • Beer
  • Doritos
  • Netflix
  • Other

 Which of following toys did you play with in childhood?

  • Barbie
  • Etch-a-Sketch
  • Mouse Trap
  • Legos
  • Mastermind
  • Rubik's Cube
  • Baby Alive
  • Battleship
  • Simon
  • Light Brite

(Okay, I just wasted too much time on memory lane via Buzzfeed's toys of the past)

The purpose is discovery of them. Small talk that warms them up to sharing more with you in the future. You can share information about yourself as well. One client of mine wanted to know what a typical pizza night looked like for his panel members; he shared a photo of Joey and Chandler from Friend's eating out of a delivery box at the kitchen counter to show what pizza night at his house looks like. 

If you are B2B and your inner critic is telling you this isn't professional, I recommend the same thing, but tone it down a notch. It's still okay to have water-cooler type exchanges with your B2B panel members. We have to remember it is people we are trying to connect with, not an email address. The email address is the vehicle to reach the human being.

So go be you. Throw in a photo and have some fun getting to know your peeps!





Recalculate Your NPS with Open Ends for Real Insights


NPS score word clouds, using NPS open ends for real insights

Here is a question I get a lot:

What software program do you use to analyze open ends?

I don't think the answer they are looking for is a hybrid solution. Here is my process for analyzing open ends:

  1. Download open ends into an excel spreadsheet 
  2. Read them, (yes, I read them) with a notepad next to me so I can start jotting down themes, key words and phrases people use
  3. Search for long open end responses, read all of those, they give the most rich detail
  4. Hop back into the software platform (for me it's Qualtrics) and run filters based on key words and phrases to see where the story lives

Old school? Yep. But if you really want to know what your customers are saying, read their words.

I love good a-ha moments in research, and this is a good one. A company I was working with on its NPS was getting anxious about the slow decline NPS had been taking. Each month when reporting the NPS to executive management, the sad little line graph kept reaching new lows. There were a lot of changes going on at the company, so pinpointing what was causing the decline was like a game of whack-a-mole. We took a deep dive into the open ends. Instead of looking at NPS in total, we looked at NPS by key words and phrases to see how NPS fluctuates. We found when people used the words: "friendly" OR "courteous" OR "nice" AND NOT "not" OR "never" (following my logic?) NPS was the highest it had ever been. Customers who experienced friendly exchanges with the company were happy customers. Not a big surprise, but wait. If customers used the word "change," NPS was negative, and not a little negative. Like I said, there were a lot of changes going on at the company, but regardless of what the change was that a specific customer had (service, product, fees, etc.) if the exchange with a customer representative was positive, NPS didn't suffer. That doesn't mean these customers didn't experience the same changes, it lead us to believe the changes were handled better and the customer was left feeling like they had an advocate, despite the changes.

Another a-ha story, not related to NPS. A senior retirement property was trying to determine which features and activities to offer to attract Baby Boomers. They ran a survey asking respondents rank a laundry list of ideas, and included open ends to make sure they didn't miss anything. While the closed ended questions helped them sort through things like movie room vs. lecture hall, the open ends is where the heart of attraction was. Similar to high school seniors in search of a college campus, it boiled down to fit. As in "Do the people living here look like people I'd be friends with?" Again, that might seem obvious, but now we can look at those ranked attractions differently because it might be #8 on the list rather than #1. Let's say having an exercise room ranks #1, and a lecture hall ranked #10, but having the lecture hall is a key differentiator and helps identify "these are my people." 

Open ends are a gift. Open them. Read them. Get to know your people and listen to what they are telling you.


How to incent customers to participate in your research studies.


market research incentives.jpg

I suspect we all struggle with finding the right incentives. Unless you have unlimited budget or have off-the-scale NPS promoters (a.k.a. Polaris Indian motorcycle buyers), incenting customers to participate in research is a challenge. I once joked that the only universal need we all have, that is 100% usable and cheap enough for any research budget is toilet paper. But putting your logo on sheets of T.P.? Probably not.


Several of my clients use sweepstakes. Win an iPad. Win a $100 Visa gift card.  It an enticing offer, but most people assume they won't win. Heck, I play Bingo at the local legion once a week, and I know the odds are that I'll leave with $20 less in my purse (I know, Pam Grout would be disappointed in me). The incentive to play Bingo isn't only the pot of $200 per game; it's the other benefits; hanging out with friends and connecting with the heart of my local community. 

When are Sweepstakes an appropriate incentive in research? I think Sweepstakes are best utilized when it's a smaller online research community, the people have some familiarity with each other and it isn't a cast of 300+ which decreases the chance to win. Think Bingo night at the legion. You might be disappointed you didn't win, but you can still celebrate the winner and have fun participating (i.e. the research study was short, fun and had relevance to what your tribe cares about).

Gift Cards

The benefit: everyone gets something. The barrier: this gets expensive. 

True Story: I was desperate to get responses from a tough professional audience (finance executives) and the budget was tight. We offered a $10 gift card for completing a 10-question survey. I got an email back that was "F%&* you and your $10, my time is worth more than that." I wanted to email him back and ask how much time it took to read the email and email me back, but refrained from reacting, or crying. I chalked it up to a finance guy having a bad day.

When are Gift Cards an appropriate incentive?  When you can afford them, and the more immediate the better. G2 Crowd recently sent me a request to fill out a survey for a company I have experience using. I liked their invite - it was something like "Know what it's like to find $10 in your pocket? We just found $10 for you." It re-framed the $10 to feel like it was a bonus find, rather than "Do us a favor and we'll send you a $10 gift card."


I have an unpopular opinion here, but I'll say it anyway. This system bugs me. I don't like keeping track, and I don't like how many clicks my little mouse and I have to make to navigate our way to reach "redeem now." After searching and debating: American Eagle for my daughter or $75 at a Chili's restaurant? I hit the close button and decide to let the points rack up higher. Maybe I'll include the Points in my Will to my daughters. 

A light bulb just went off for me. I just read an article about how if a teen invests $3/week they could be a millionaire by retirement. What if an incentive program was an investment program? Hmm. I'll need to contact Acorns

When are Points an appropriate incentive? I think Points work when you have a fairly engaged audience of respondents who take your surveys on a regular basis, and the points reflect relevant incentives that are easy to cash in. Also if you are running a points program, make it super-dee-duper obvious somewhere in the email invite how many points they have, how many points this survey offers, and how far away they are from their next reward. 

Charity Donations

When appropriate, this a great and easy incentive. Basically it's this: You take this survey, we'll donate $5 to the Humane Society. Know your audience and what resonates with them. A pharmaceutical company I work with allows the respondent to select from a list of charities, and circles back in the thank you email to give tallies of how much went to each charity.

When are Charity donations an appropriate incentive? When the cause resonates with your target audience. I have also seen this used on a local level, e.g. Upon completing this survey we will donate $5 on your behalf to fund pencils and notebooks for ABC Elementary School. 

The Best Incentive?

An authentic, personal thank you that shows you (insert your name here) are listening and reading every response so you understand the needs of your customer base. Keep it real. Share some results back. Randomly email some of your tribe members and tell him, her or they that you appreciate their participation. Tell them what you learned, or follow up with a question from an open end. Just because we can automate and work-flow communication doesn't mean we should always follow the rules.

If you are struggling with finding the right incentive for your audience, send me a note. Brainstorming is my favorite.





6 Benefits of Building a Research Panel


benefits of a research panel or research community
Are you wondering if you should invest in a research panel or community? Wondering if it's right for your organization? 

I've been helping a client onboard customers into a new research panel, and a research colleague of his commented, "It seems like more work to nurture and communicate back and forth with your research panel than it is for me to send out a survey to our customer list." She's going to stick with her method.

I wondered if she was right. Is it more work? And if so, is it really worth it? Truth be told, it can be a lot of work during the onboarding process. It takes time to set up and create an environment that customers (or prospects) will want to stay active in participating. Emails invites have to go deeper than "Your opinion matters to us! Take our short survey." And panel management best practices tells you to circle back, thank them and tell them what you are doing with the information. She's right, her way is less work. But as she keeps churning through lists of 8,000 emails every survey to get 300-400 responses, he is building a panel of 500 customers and getting a 60% response rate, and having some fun getting to know his customers. He is building trust, showing interest in them, getting fast feedback and building a stronger brand experience.

If you have ever jokingly said, "I wish focus groups weren't so expensive; our conversion rate for creating engaged customers is 100%," a research panel may be your solution. That's what a research panel can do. But by the thousands, rather than 6-8 at a time for $4,500. (note: I am absolutely not discounting the value of focus groups, that's like saying "I don't like eating M&M's the dark.")

Here are the Top 6 Benefits of Having a Research Panel that I've seen from companies I've worked with:

  1. Faster results. Having a research panel puts an end to 2-4 week turn around on survey results. With DIY software (like Qualtrics, QuestionPro or My-Take) you can be in a meeting Thursday morning learning about a new need for insights, and have results by Thursday afternoon. I've heard of clients initiating a new poll (1-question survey) during a meeting for results within the hour.
  2. Saves money. Yes, the initial investment can be a hit to your budget, but once you get your panel built and start using it, research projects you used to outsource are now done at no additional cost. I had one client who estimated a $80K budget savings within the first year of creating her panel. And come to think of it, the cost of building a year-long research panel can be done for the cost of a 2-market, 4-focus group project. How about that?!
  3. More control. They are your customers, and your research projects. I used to find it really frustrating playing phone tag or stuck in email chains during questionnaire development when all I needed were a few tweaks such as: Can you underline the words 'best represents' in Q5? or Q8 is missing the word 'you.' You are in the driver's seat of design, tweaking and reporting.
  4. Relationship memory. Because you can store information collected on your panel members over time, you can better target them for future research needs. Let's say you want to target females, ages 35-54 with dogs who are heavy pizza purchasers? It's as simple as clicking those four selections and hitting the button that says "create mailing list." Screening and term points become obsolete. 
  5. Higher response rates. I don't want to over promise here, but I've seen response rates as high as 77% (with only one reminder and no incentive) and the lowest has been 25%. Average response rates? Usually around 40%. 
  6. More engaged customers. This is a two-for-one benefit. You have customers who have opted-in and want to give you feedback, so you aren't just hearing from the noisy few. You are improving their brand experience by showing that you care what they think because your company is using the information they provide. They are like your Customer Board of Directors.

The bonus benefit? Besides becoming the rock-star-go-to person for Voice of Customer at your company, it's FUN. Unless you don't like people, in which case you are probably in the wrong job studying and analyzing motivations, preferences and behavior.

Any questions? Send me a note!


Tell Me Something I Don't Know


Is anyone else listening to the new podcast Tell Me Something I Don't Know by Freakonomics aka Stephen Dubner? (or found at @TMSIDK_Show) Dubner debuted the show at Qualtrics Summit in February 2016, and in full disclosure, I was more obsessed with seeing Dubner than I was the private concert we had with Steven Tyler (although I do have hair envy for Tyler). I was able to worm my way into a private lunch session with Dubner, maybe because I threatened Qualtrics that if I wasn't included I might stalk the men's bathroom to catch him either entering or exiting. I got my wish. And my photo with him.

I listen to the TMSIDK podcast while running. I'm beefing up on my Cliff Claven cocktail conversation starters like:

  1. What is the hardest part of the body for an artist to draw (it's not the nose)
  2. How to fake your own death (don't leave your socks behind)
  3. What happens to our brain when we sleep (think of a toilet flushing)
  4. What almost every house has 60 lbs of that is collecting dust (it's not that old Sony TV)
  5. The most dangerous time of day to vote for president on election day (this applies to every year, not just this past year)

I challenge myself to think of unique things I have learned from my research projects. I don't think Dubner has plans to bring his show to Minneapolis anytime soon so I'll share some of my fun learnings this year here. 

Question: How do millennials plan social event with friends?

Answer: They use multiple sources (e.g. social media, bus ads, news feeds, local hipster papers) to find "the cool and new" thing to do, then they get one friend they trust (and enjoy) to commit, and then they'll throw the idea out to a wider group. This early commitment from one trusted person prevents "flaking" (last minute no shows). Millennial hipsters will agree they like to be the one at the office Monday morning sharing a weekend story that others wish they had known about.

Question: How can we get our church members more involved in mission and outreach programs?

Answer: Find one program at your church where engagement is working, and see what you can copy from that model. A common finding is that when people were invited personally by someone already participating in the program, it makes the first time easier and less intimidating. Also, identify the barriers to participation. Interest could be high, but barriers to participation need to be removed.

Question: What do adults 75+ and high school seniors have in common?

Answer: When seniors (75+) and seniors (18 year olds) are looking for their next place to live (senior living community or college), aside from the obvious features and benefits - at the end of the day they both want to see if they fit, as in, "do these look like my kind of people?" Both age cohorts will quickly reject a community if they don't see their kind of peeps.

Question: What population in the U.S. has a 41% attempted suicide rate?

Answer: Those who identify as Transgender. Here is a excellent article on The Truth About Transgender Suicide. I was working on a project for a medical company that has a device that could be used for sex reassignment surgery and came across the stats on depression and suicide for this population. I also learned that Thailand has been country leading the world in sex reassignment surgery. Hug a Trans 

Question: What scents will mice follow, and what scent will they avoid?

Answer: Mice will follow the smell of urine from other mice, and their top food sources: nuts and chocolate. They will avoid the smell super strong mint (the kind that even makes your eyes water). I learned this not via a fun research project, but by struggling for months with an invasion of mice in my house. When I found evidence of them hanging out at night in my silverware drawer I broke down and called in the experts at Bogo Pest Control. The BOGO refers to giving away part of their profits to a non-profit, it's not BOGO on a mouse. Thank God.

Those are just some of the interesting things I learned in 2016. I love the work I get to do. (less the mice) 

Are we over NPS-ing?


I recently switched Internet providers (the pain of keeping my current provider finally exceeded the pain of switching), and because of holiday-bundle-promotions and partnerships, I added DirecTV as well. For the last 10 years, I lived with channels 2-22 without taping capabilities. Translation: I don't watch much TV. I was kinda proud of my self-discipline, like when you hear someone gave up sugar. But that is only impressive self-control when the person has regular access to sugar. I didn't have access to TV. When my girls and I stay at a hotel we automatically turn on the TV and look for the Disney Channel or Nickelodean. That's the lifestage they were at when I cut them off, so like addicts we pick up where we left off.

My DirecTV installer was friendly, helpful, and didn't track snow all over my house. He didn't complain about having to go up on the roof in sub zero temps to find a clear signal from the DirecTV satellite gods. He was also patient with me when I had him explain how to use the remotes, channels, Genie and Guide, twice. When he was packing up his gear, he let me know I might be getting a survey about his visit, and he hoped he had answered all my questions and I was happy with his service. This poor soul has no idea what I do for a living, and I asked. "How will the survey be administered?" "What kind of questions will they ask me?" "Will it be a 1-888 number? I don't answer those, so should I?"

I found out it will be an NPS survey. He explained his compensation is based on how many Promoters he has, and requested I give him a 9 or a 10. I told him I would, but then selfishly thought to myself: It's not like you baked fresh chocolate chip cookies while you were here, now that would be a 10 and I'd tell friends and family. Instead I asked him more questions. I can see there would be red flags if the service guys are getting Detractors (0-6 rating), but how does a DirecTV service guy get a loyalty rating of a 10, which means "I'm Extremely Likely to recommend this service person to a friend or family member?" First of all, I'm probably the last of my friends or family to get DirecTV so who am I going to recommend him to? Second, who recommends service guys that are assigned to you by calling a 1-800 number or visiting a website? 

Just because you can NPS, doesn't mean you should NPS. 

Don't get me wrong. I like NPS. I like running NPS research. I get a thrill out of helping clients discover what's going well for their company, why some customers are luke-warm, and why some customers are pissed off. Playing around in the open-ends for me is like being 4 years old in a sandbox with the good sand all to yourself.

There are plenty of benefits of doing implementing NPS. Survey Monkey published a great article on NPS Pros and Cons. They nailed it in the Con "Without a plan in place to act on the results, the survey won’t help your business."

Here are a few more tips on when and when not to implement NPS into your business.

 When it's a good idea to implement NPS

  • If you want to know why your most passionate customers love your brand
  • If you want identify ways to bump luke-warm customers to passionate customers
  • If you need insight into why customers are dropping off
  • If you want to quantify your customer base by the percentage that are passionately advocating your brand, and the percentage that may be discrediting your brand
  • Your company is introducing something new and you want to track changes 

When it's a NOT good idea to implement NPS

  • When you have a product or service that they aren't likely to recommend anyway
  • You aren't going to do anything with the data (if it's just nice to know, do you need to know it?)
  • When CSAT will do (measuring short term customer happiness, like my DirecTV guy)

Here are some helpful articles on NPS Best Practices. Have fun! 

NPS To Do or Not To Do

7 Biggest NPS Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

 5 Things You Should Know about NPS


Thinking of going off on your own?


how to make working from home workOne of my aunt's stopped by last week to drop off a winter coat that belonged to her mother. The trim is made of curly lamb's hair and is probably the most decadent winter coat I'll ever wear. I slipped on the coat over my long-underwear-slash-pajamas because yes, it was 4:00 p.m. and I was still in sleepwear. I had been down with the flu and while I was back to working, I wasn't back to dressing yet. We joked about the luxury of working from home, and she said something to the tune of retirement being in her future. My aunt is an accomplished corporate attorney, her life is full of interesting work and Travel magazine worthy vacations ... it never occurred to me that what I do, sometimes looks like retirement to others.

I take for granted that the life I'm living now used to be my Pipe Dream. If you are starting the new year wondering, "Is it even possible to go off on my own?" I want to help you take the leap from someone who has been exactly where you might be: Mostly miserable with the corporate 9-5 gig, hate (and I use that word carefully) unproductive time at "work" when you know you could be doing more in less time, especially if you had more control over your schedule and projects, and a constant underlying wonder if you could leave and start something on your own.

You might already have an idea, or you might be trying to think of ideas. Either way this step will apply to you if the financial part of self employment kind of scares you.

No Risk Step #1: Get a solid handle on your expenses, then start making cuts.

  1. Make a list of all your monthly expenses. Leave nothing out.
  2. Next to each one write down if it's fixed or flexible.
  3. If fixed, can you lower it?
  4. If flex, can you cut it?
  5. What expenses might go away or decrease by working from home?

You'll want to get a realistic monthly estimate of what the absolute minimum is you can live off of, and not lose your house. That was my goal anyway. I wanted to stay in my house, but refinanced to a crazy low 10-year fixed ARM to get my mortgage payments as low as possible. I figured that would give me 10 years to get my business up and running (I'm starting year 14). I dropped cable TV, I dropped my land line, I dropped all subscriptions and my gym membership. Any auto-non-profit donations got cut too. I stopped shopping at my "nice" grocery store and started shopping at discount grocery stores, and stuck to weekly meal lists. There are other expenses that will naturally go down, like gas, parking and going out for lunch.

Rather than seeing the cuts as sacrifices, think of it as a game. It can be fun; I felt like I was a part of an underground society with my frugality. It's a discipline, and I started to see with more clarity how much money I spent unnecessarily. Keep in mind I had two little ones at home as well, so it wasn't like I had extra time on my hands to make my own cleaning supplies or soaps, but I did learn that a Dollar Store brand of cleaning spray can replace most household cleaners, and our hair didn't drastically change for the worse when we all started using the same cheap shampoo. I also learned that a big jar of generic peanut butter can go a long way as a kitchen staple.

Here is a worksheet to help you get started on the first step to making your underlying wonder a reality.

Kara's Personal Expense Planning Worksheet

And here is a fun online calculator that will calculate the savings if you cut one of your vices. I discovered if I cut red wine for the next 20 years I could save $32,882.69. Eeek, that's a lot! 

The Latte Factor

If you have question, send me an email at kara@sherocksresearch.com One of my passions (and ways to give back) is helping other people launch off on their own. 

I wish you the best! Subscribe to my blog if you want more tips on taking the leap to start your own gig.



A Postal Pause, and a Trade-Off Question


I was at my local post office yesterday mailing my daughter's college finals care package, sizing up boxes for client gifts, trying to decide which holiday stamps to purchase, and getting a late birthday present sent to my brother. In short, I was one of those people that I tend to get annoyed with, as in: "Couldn't you have come during non-peak hours?" or "You do realize there is a line behind you, right?"

My post-office guy was especially helpful and cheerful considering 1. He works for the post office, and 2. It's their busiest time of year. After the "chip or no chip? did I do it right? should I run it as credit or debit?" stumbling blocks he handed me my receipt and circled the bottom:


Most normal people ignore these little opportunities. Not me. I'm a survey junkie. So I buzzed home, entered the web address and away I went to see how the U.S. Postal Service could HELP SERVE ME BETTER.

After some geo-demo questions, this was my first question. Read it. Imagine you are evaluating the U.S. Post office and try to select ONE answer.

PostOfficeQues.pngI recognize I have a problem with both sarcasm and judging surveys I didn't write. But I had to pause on this one. How are these choices a trade off? Buddy from the movie Elf pulls off a positive attitude in the mail room, but not sure he was efficient or knowledgeable. How about the postal worker who has "projectmanageritis" (can't see past his own product anymore) and then shames you for being an idiot (not that I have any experience there). And when is it okay not to work efficiently? I'll be honest, I was stumped on how to answer. Take any one of these too far your choices boil down to a post worker who is:

  1. Seinfeld Soup Kitchen Staff (knowledgeable)
  2. Lucy Ricardo at the Chocolate Factory  (efficient) 
  3. Buddy the Elf ( positive attitude)
  4. Forrest Gump (courteous)

See? Tough choices. Trade off questions are better used for actual trade offs, like should the post office use the waiting area have more room for self-packaging or more racks of things for sale? Should they extend their hours, or make more service lines during standard hours? Choices in trade off questions reflect some impact on resources, if you pick one, you are giving something else up. I think it's reasonable to expect a sales associate can be knowledgeable, efficient, positive and courteous. And that day, my sales associate was all those, which is why I took his survey.

And just for fun, I went with option b:


"Does this survey make me look fat?"


Screen Shot 2016-12-05 at 8.14.00 AM.png

Have you ever sat in front of your computer screen wondering "How do I ask this question?"

Yea, me too.

I volunteer with the local high school DECA students on their market research projects. This year's topic is SoLoMo Marketing Strategies. They need to design and execute a  market research project that helps a local business develop a SoLoMo marketing plan. If you are asking yourself what SoLoMo means (I was too), it's Social-Local-Mobile marketing. The students are covering everything from local fitness centers to local bakeries.

I've been designing market research studies since, as my daughters would say, "the 1900's," and when it came to helping come up with some template questions for SoLoMo market research, I was stumped. The students wanted guidelines for questions to ask. I was coming up...mostly blank. I had some general questions in mind, but the flow wasn't revealing itself.

While that was brewing in the background of my brain, I have a client that is revising a Win-Loss questionnaire that goes out monthly to accounts closed the prior month. My client and I were batting around ideas without making much progress. 

Add these two together and I started to wonder if I've been faking it all these years and don't know what I'm doing. Then a light bulb went off.

What are the research objectives?

The best designed research methodologies are the ones that have really clear research objectives. How could I have forgotten that? I am usually a stickler for having a primary objective, and secondary objectives. From there, you can select the best methodology and questions to ask.

Let's use one of my local DECA projects for example. A local cafe and bakery (CCC) wants to attract more high school students as an after school hang-out. Their current customer base is predominately breakfast and lunch meeting women 35+, with a significant drop off in traffic after 3:00 p.m. They are located less than a mile from the school, have plenty of seating, free wi-fi, and their coffee drinks are less expensive than a local coffee chain where the students typically frequent after school. CCC needs a SoLoMo marketing plan.

Primary Objective: Develop an effective SoLoMo marketing plan that attracts local high school students to frequent the establishment after school.

Secondary Objectives:

  1. Measure awareness of CCC among high school students (is awareness the issue?)
  2. Determine what social media tools high school student are using most frequently
  3. Assess what social media tools students would expect to find and follow CCC
  4. Identify what key benefits and messages CCC would need to promote to attract traffic from high school students
  5. Measure the "share and spread the word" factor among high school students 

Now the questions start to present themselves. Right? If CCC had the answers to these questions, they will likely find out where they need to be promoting their business on social media, and what content they need to push out to encourage high schoolers to visit.

The next research project you are designing, take some quiet time (turn off email, your phone, put your computer screen on sleep) and with a pad of paper and pen ask yourself "What do I really need to know that will help move my business forward?" "What questions do we have that are not answered?" If you feel stuck or are overwhelmed with questions you want to ask, my go-to question to clients is this:

If you could only ask one question, what would that one question be?

And if you need help, drop me a note!

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Kara Hans O'Brien

Wannabe psychologist that loves people research.