How to plan an audience research project

A couple of years ago I wrote a guide for my colleagues on how to approach audience research. While the tools may have changed, the approach is still very relevant when it comes to ensuring research projects meet clients need, so I wanted to reiterate some of its points.

Firstly, you should define your research question by answering these questions:

  • Who do you want to find out about?
  • What do you already know about them?
  • What do you want to know about them?
  • Why do you want to know that?
  • What decisions might you make as a result?

In relation to the final question – it’s often useful to a researcher to understand the wider context of the research. What project will it feed into? What are the objectives of that project?

This diagram can help:

Research planning process

In writing a research brief, specify what the objective of your wider project is, and what stage of the customer decision journey (CDJ) it is focused on. The various stages of the CDJ can be simplified into ‘awareness’, ‘action’ and ‘advocacy’ for these purposes. This is useful for sense checking your responses to the questions above.

Having a hypothesis for your research question is useful for the researcher to check whether, by asking this particular research question, you could possibly reach such a conclusion using the available processes and data available. It sets expectations for the outputs of the research. Without having a hypothesis, sometimes people can expect different results, which were never really a possibility based on the research question agreed upon.

That concludes the brief, and then the research planner/data strategist can plan the appropriate process. The process might be one or more of the following examples:

  • buzz/social media monitoring report
  • influencer mapping
  • content audit
  • SEO report
  • keyword research
  • website audit
  • click tracking
  • persona development
  • market research
  • focus groups
  • surveys
  • card sorting
  • affinity mapping
  • competitor analysis
  • email data analysis

Delivery of the research follows:

Research delivery diagram

In conclusion, it’s essential not to begin a research project with the research process already decided on, i.e. don’t decide that you need to do a buzz monitoring report, or a content audit, until you’ve agreed the previous steps and answered the questions above.

Image credit: paulspace