Pandemics and the Power of Proprietary Research

During this pandemic, my best clients are now completing their first round of scenario planning. This is an essential process to help them determine financial alternatives and future resource requirements. It also provides insight into what initiatives and offerings to keep, expand, or jettison.

Some of your more unfavorable scenarios suggest longer, more painful delays and streamlined operations. Scenario plans also might suggest that certain established offerings are no longer relevant to your customers.

Marketing leaders within membership organizations, food service, entertainment, and hospitality are seeing a significant decline in revenues due to their dependency on live experiences. They are also unsure of the time it will take customers and guests to return to their venues without significant social distancing, safety, and sanitation promises.

In my experience, proprietary research can be a critical compliment to scenario planning. It offers myriad benefits during this difficult time.

First, proprietary research can accelerate your learning of a given market or audience. It helps you uncover new product and service ideas. It also helps you speak the language of your potential buyers. And, most importantly, it teaches us the power of empathy.

Proprietary research isn’t just for scientists. While it is based on the scientific method, it’s also a great method to fine tune anyone’s critical thinking and communications skills. The method helps you observe, form a theory (or hypothesis) and then conduct small, lower-cost experiments to test the results.

I have launched five new offerings in the past 15 years using this method. Most paid off. One did not.

Here was where my process failed. I invested over $12,000 in a partnership with a technology trade association. I spoke for free at their conferences. I offered audio programs to their members. I was listed on their website as a strategic partner. My intent was to generate interest in my marketing consulting services among their membership. In exchange, the Executive Director gave me permission to survey their members. This was pre-SurveyMonkey, and I conducted phone interviews.

My biggest mistake was that I forgot to ask two questions: whether the issues I could help them solve were a priority, AND whether they would be willing to invest money to fix them. To add insult to injury, many of their members did not own the budget to solve marketing and growth problems. 

The right process and the right questions will help you avoid this mistake. I also recommend these proprietary research program guidelines:

  • From your experience and observations, pick the three biggest problems you solve for clients and turn each problem into a research topic.

  • Review the literature of blogs, books, webinars, and published studies that relate to your research topic.

  • Ask yourself: “Will this research be relevant to potential clients, online media, association publications, and trade journal editors?”

  • Find an audience to interview through your LinkedIN and professional network. Build your list. Avoid creating a list that only includes your biggest fans and former or current customers. You want diversity and a fresh look at these topics.

  • Develop a strong, yet succinct interview protocol. Be very careful how much time you request for interviews or survey collection. In my experience, most executives will complete a three-minute survey and a participate in a 20-30 minute live interview.

  • Create a friendly and polite invitation to schedule these interviews or surveys. Tell them exactly what is in it for THEM. For example, you can mention that their participation gives them the “first look” at the results. It helps them compare their strategies to their peers and competitors.
  • Collect data through depth interviews and analysis of case studies. Wherever possible, record the interviews (with their permission).
    • Ask your audience which problems are the most pressing
    • See if you can prioritize based on interviews
    • Be sure to ask whether their investment in those areas are:
      • Increasing (by how much?)
      • Decreasing (by how much?)
      • Remaining constant
    • Assess how willing they are to invest funds to make these problems disappear.
    • Find out who makes the final investment decision (the economic buyer).
    • Ask what level of investment if you are speaking with an economic buyer (NOT an evaluator or influencer!)
    • Always ask if they are interested in being first to receive the results.

  • Analyze the data to draw conclusions and make recommendations.

  • Write a summary of your findings. This can be as simple as a LinkedIn video, a webinar series, or a report. It may also include something as elaborate as a book. Create an executive summary as well—some execs are too busy to read an entire book or a 30-page white paper.

  • Use the research information in your seminars, speeches, how-to articles, online platforms, podcasts, and publicity

Professionals, consultants, tech companies, and other entrepreneurs can use proprietary research to obtain clients, especially when the pandemic hits the revenue fan.

Note: A big thanks to Henry DeVries, Founder of Indie Books International, for his contributions and insights. We have collaborated for nearly 2 decades, and he’s a marketing avatar.

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