Here’s a typical scenario when a client wants to conduct a market research study: A client comes to LMD with a [marketing, branding, messaging, etc.] problem, and they want to do some research to understand what’s going on. We tell them that as a research-driven agency, they’ve come to the right place. But before we begin planning the research, we first need to understand how the research results will be used.

Insert record scratch sound effect here.

Talking about the research results first when designing market research tends to break peoples’ brains. That’s because when people think of market research, they think of traditional applied market research.

Applied market research is used when a client runs into a problem—and in LMD’s world, that problem usually means they aren’t getting the results they need, whether that’s more customers, conversions, or clout. The client wants to know what’s going on, why is this problem happening, and how they can solve it. Traditional applied research looks like this:

  1. Identify problem
  2. Make a list of questions related to the problem
  3. Choose research methodology (e.g., surveys, interviews)
  4. Conduct research
  5. Write a long, wordy report
  6. Act on the findings…maybe???

The problem with this approach is that it typically tells the client what they already know and doesn’t offer a clear solution to fixing the problem. Even worse, this approach makes it hard to act on the findings, because it centers on “what is” vs. “what if?”.

How can we fix this and make research not only useful, but actionable? By turning this process around and starting with the end in mind. This is called “the backward research method” and it was first discussed in a 1985 Harvard Business Review article by marketing professor Alan Andreasen. It looks like this:

  1. Discuss how research results will be used
  2. Choose appropriate research method
  3. Develop research questions mapped to desired outcomes/results
  4. Conduct the research
  5. Present the results
  6. Make research-informed decisions

The success of the backward research method relies upon investing significant time upfront in how the results will be used and even what the research report will look like—how data will be organized, analyzed, and displayed. By taking the time at the beginning of the project to talk about what the client really needs to know to make good decisions, as well as what they are willing to do and not do to act on the results, we can make sure their investment in the research effort is truly worth it.

For example, let’s say one of our clients has a problem with recruiting top-quality job candidates. They may be willing to increase their social media presence and engagement—but only if they can do so through organic social and not paid, because their advertising budgets have been slashed. The research results show that their best candidates read industry blogs, so we may recommend that they invest more time—vs. media dollars—in a thought leadership campaign that’s implemented through guest blogging on industry-leading websites.

What makes backward research so impactful and worth the extra time upfront is that it puts the emphasis on results. By forcing decisionmakers—in LMD’s case, our clients—to think about what results they need to make smart decisions at the beginning of the process, they’re better equipped to focus on the core issues, ultimate goals, and possible solutions. It also tightens research scope and objectives around what’s most important—the need-to-know vs. the nice-to-know—which has the added benefit of saving time and money. Ultimately, the backward research method turns a rambling fishing expedition of a research effort into a laser-focused mission to get answers and outcomes.

Want to get actionable results out of your next research effort? Talk to LMD.

Vice President, Research & Content
As Vice President, Research and Content, Kristen works closely with clients to uncover what drives stakeholders' actions, attitudes, and beliefs, and uses these insights to create actionable strategies and powerful...Read more