Jul 17

We shape our tracking studies, and then, our tracking studies shape us

by Ivaylo Yorgov - Director Customer Experience Research, GemSeek

Winston Churchill once said (not in his typical witty, pungent style, but no less insightfully): “We shape our buildings, and afterwards, our buildings shape us.” Isn’t it the same with the tracking studies you run? Are they not a lot like our houses, public buildings, commercial centers?

They all require meticulous engineering, thorough planning, high quality materials and a spark of creativity to turn an otherwise utilitarian object into a piece of art. And they all, once in place, thoroughly change the environment around them and have a profound impact on people’s lifestyle. Just like your tracking studies: you run them to make a change in how your organization reacts to business challenges, changes in the competitive environment, and in the way people (re)act when it comes to your brand. In this article, I offer a few tips on how to get more from your tracking studies and turn them into master pieces.

Ensuring high data quality is less of a challenge

It is clear to everyone in the research industry, suppliers and buyers alike, that any study needs to ensure a good reach of the target audiences and as high data quality as possible. In the current state of the industry, this is relatively easy to achieve, so let’s not discuss at length. Suffice to say that all data providers are well aware of this hygiene factor and put a lot of effort into expanding their reach and implementing a number of quality assurance procedures and participants’ engagement activities. This covers the materials for our building, but what about the blueprint?

Would you live in a building constructed without a blueprint?

In previous articles we’ve spoken in depth about the importance of having explicit guidelines for executing a study. In a nutshell, this mitigates many risks stemming from the dynamic, constantly changing environment we all work in, and helps you achieve sustainability, accountability, and comparability (in time, and across geographies). Frankly speaking, it’s not about the plan itself, it’s about the planning. Having a plan with guidelines in place is not the cure-all to every issue in a multi-year, multi-country study. Just like blueprints don’t get buildings built – people do. Nevertheless, all of us here at GemSeek remain strong proponents of having a plan in place as it will help give your organization a common ground for discussions.

In the same line of thought, putting project management tools in place can yield a significant ROI. Communication (think Slack) and task management tools (think Trello), holistic project management software (the Basecamps of this world), or even custom-built tools can all help you manage relationships with dozens of stakeholders and strict deadlines. While nothing can substitute (or for that matter, mitigate) the risk in adding a human element to the process, a wide array of tools can significantly lessen the burden of day-to-day communication.

Our homes are getting smarter. So, how about our tracking studies?

In a nutshell, when engineering a tracking study it’s all about real-time data and the ability to act on it. There are a few things more powerful than having access to a plethora of insights at your fingertips, and that is exactly what online reporting solutions and live text analytics provide. Automated text analytics, for example, allow you to seamlessly feed in user-generated content, parse it, and understand how your customers talk about your product. This information can then be integrated in an online dashboard encompassing the myriad marketing KPIs you track, which becomes the single source of truth in your organization. Online dashboards and text analytics, if properly deployed, will not only save on budget and reporting time, but, more importantly, will align the organization on the KPIs while at the same time maintaining flexibility in interpretations.

Another practice I’d strongly recommend is to do continuous fieldwork, i.e. an always-on-tracking-study. Firstly, it allows for implementing a modular approach to a study, thus generating significant efficiencies (explained below). Moreover, it makes it possible to detect changes in the competitive environment as soon as they appear. The increase gained in explanatory power is considerable, and while project management costs may go up, their increase is negligible considering the opportunities this approach provides.

A step further down the road, integrating your tracking study results with external data gives you a holistic picture of the Customer Journey. Two things are crucial here. First: include as big a part of the journey as possible in your tracking study to uncover causalities, the Whys behind the actions. If this step is executed properly, the tracking study will then have the power to put you in your customers’ shoes and offer a reflection of what your organization delivers to them. Second: consider moving beyond research-only metrics, instead integrating research data with other data sources – be it market or internal data. For example, a combination of CRM data and tracking survey data will give you an unprecedented wealth of information about your customers and help you with running individual marketing campaigns, identifying potential switchers to address their needs before they churn, and developing targeted product propositions.

Would you like to live in a custom-built home?

And by custom-built I don’t just mean design-wise; imagine having the power to change the very layout of your house in the blink of an eye. While this may still be too far in the future for houses, it is quite possible with tracking studies even today – but you need a spark of creativity, and two key ingredients - localization and modularity.

When it comes to localization, you need to strike the right balance between ‘one-size-fits-all’ and ‘every country/market is different’. Yes, you want to maintain comparability between countries/other entities, but you also want to stay relevant – and this is where a degree of localization is invaluable. Allowing local stakeholders to have a say in the design, slightly tweak some research elements, or have designated space in which they can measure a local issue of interest, is vital to engaging them in the programme.

In addition, implementing a modular approach to your tracking study is probably the single most impactful methodological step you can take. Simply put, instead of always asking all the questions (and let’s be honest – not really using some of them at all), you can manage your questionnaire section-by-section. The best practice here is to have a core section that is always included (featuring your organization’s KPIs) and a number of modules you switch on and off as needed. The campaign measurement module we implemented in the tracking survey for one of our clients, a large multinational consumer electronics manufacturer, is a good example of how modules work. Instead of running ad hoc surveys to do pre- and post-measurement of a campaign’s impact on KPIs, the client now has a module in place, which they turn on when they want to measure a campaign, and turn off when they don’t have live campaigns. The savings, compared to running ad hoc surveys are significant, reaching up to 60%.

In short, we, at GemSeek believe that the tracking studies of the future will be smart (connected), lean, modular, and created in collaboration between different stakeholders. Just like our cities and homes. It’s not going to happen overnight, but the indications are all around us. Sometimes it’s just a few small steps we need to take to make it to the next level; other times it’s about changing the foundations. One thing is certain - there are steps you can already take tomorrow to future-proof your multi-year, multi-country study. Let’s start the discussion today!