For me, research needs to be actionable. It needs to tackle a business problem head on and be used to help in a very real way. I want our clients, whether it’s the CEO or the insight team, to be able to pick up a Brand Vista debrief and know exactly what that means in a very practical way for the business. I want it to lead to action! 5 years ago I left IPOS MORI and research agency life behind. Research in a strategic consultancy, whilst in no way less robust, is infinitely more strategic (funnily enough…). Our research needs to hit straight to the root of the problem and directly feeds into our client’s decision making – because of this it’s often required to answer some tricky questions. Tricky questions can often mean tricky research!

I love a challenge and thrive off solving problems, but anyone who knows me well knows I don’t do very well with a slapdash approach. I don’t like fixing a problem with a band aid, it needs to be a robust and reliable solution that genuinely works. Tricky research requires out of the box thinking, trial and error and a lot of hard work. Over the years the research team have worked hard at finding solutions that have helped us reduce the risk that tricky research represents. Below, I’m going to share three ways we tackle tricky quant research. There are loads of ‘tricky’ areas but here are some we come across regularly; brand proposition testing, international research and hard to find samples.

Proposition testing

Arguably, the area of trickiest research is quantitative brand proposition or vision testing, in a brand strategy consultancy it’s something we do rather a lot of! We do so much we’ve developed a specialism in it. In fact, I’d be so bold to say, that if you are not a specialist in this type of research it would well worth getting one in to help as it is so easy to get it wrong, it is riddled with potential pitfalls. It is not as easy as just showing some stimulus to a bunch of people on Survey Monkey and asking if they like it or not. The biggest area of trickiness is that respondents get muddled up thinking we are testing advertising and they don’t understand what the proposition means. It’s possible to get the wrong results by using the wrong language for the right idea and the right language for the wrong idea. Seriously, one wrong word and you’ve lost them forever, in fact the ways of getting it wrong are endless! We have worked out how to ask the questions using everyday language, we use monadic testing which tests ideas in isolation and not in comparison, we make the research interactive and use things like highlighter tools, pictures, different ways of asking the same thing and lots of benchmarks. It’s tricky but when you get it right and the new thing you have research proves a success it’s fantastic! The trickiest research becomes the most rewarding.

International research

The next area of trickiness is international research. We did loads of global research during Covid and we quickly had to adapt to different cultures when writing and interpreting data, especially when the inevitable question comes; ‘how does China compare with Lower Saxony’. I chose China deliberately as Chinese respondents tend to answer more in the affirmative when given structured quantitative questions, they are more likely to agree or answer positively due to something called ‘Confucian influence’. This is just one bias, what about Australia versus Germany, Lower Saxony versus Upper Saxony? We learned to overcome the biases by using verbal scales rather than numerical, calibrating the data to remove extremes and just getting to know the culture. It’s a fascinating area and very rewarding to guide a brand when it launches in new territories and you have head start because you have done the numbers and understand them.Difficult to find samples

The last area of trickiness to cover today is ‘difficult to find samples’. Let’s face it, there is no point in asking the right questions to the wrong people. This is especially hard in quantitative research as you’ve not only got to find these people, but also enough of them for it be a robust sample! Sometimes we are tasked with finding very ‘tricky to find’ people which would be easy to leave out of a sample structure for an easier life but that can never be right. You have to go hunting, be flexible and enjoy an adventure. For example, our long-term client, Home Group, is a housing association providing social housing across the UK. A small but important minority of their customers are not online so we have to mix up the methodologies. We go to them instead by telephone or knocking on their doors. It’s also worth developing strong partnerships with specialist fieldwork companies. We conduct regular diversity research with Greene King and we need to find very distinct and diverse audiences in terms of ethnicities and religions and we do pharma research when we have to find patients at a particular stage of a disease. Not easy, but totally worth it when you see how your results are being used to answer very real problems.

Quantitative research is integral to what we do at Brand Vista precisely because it’s strategic – feeding into the client’s bigger picture and long term strategy, but because of this it’s tricky. I never expected an easy life when I joined Brand Vista. I wanted the challenge of strategic, difficult to do research and Brand Vista delivered. We have only covered three areas here and this is just in quantitative research… wait until I start on about qual! Of course pitfalls lurk in many corners but the challenge of overcoming them and genuinely influencing big business decisions is a great way to earn a living, if a little tricky.