Hopefully, by now you've enlisted the services of a talented and experienced group of marketing professionals. Data collection is one of the specialties of firms like this, so unless you've got an in-house market research team, it's best to leave the actual running of the focus group -- or telephone survey, or Web poll, or whatever method you're using -- to the professionals.
But that doesn't mean it's not a good idea to familiarize yourself with some of the methods and terms those professionals might toss around. To that end, here's a quick list of data collection methods you might hear about.
Focus Groups. This is sort of like a meeting, with a group of specially selected attendees. Your job is to gauge their attitudes toward and opinions of a given subject or subjects, which could include a product or service your company offers; your logo or a product's packaging; or a proposed new direction your company is taking. Focus groups can generate plenty of valuable ideas, but you'll need a talented pro to manage them, since one or more strong personalities can take over the group.
Phone Interviews. With these, you'll have a team of trained interviewers actually calling respondents on the phone. The best interviewers have a pleasant demeanor (so as to avoid hang-ups) yet are able to avoid such strong personal interactions that your respondents' answers are swayed in some way.
Computer Assisted Phone Interviews. These are similar to standard phone interviews, but they're conducted by an automated interviewer rather than a human. While some people may bristle at these, many respondents actually welcome these kinds of surveys. Professionals responding to surveys about their specialized tools, for instance -- like teachers responding to surveys about textbooks or scientists to surveys regarding laboratory materials. The benefit of these surveys is that the human element is removed, thus reducing the potential for error.
Web Surveys. These may be distributed to your sample group via email, or placed on your company's website. Or your sales staff can ask customers directly to fill out the surveys. And don't worry -- the tech geeks who write the code for these surveys know how to prevent people from taking a survey more than once.
Once you've gathered the information you need from your respondents, you'll have to analyze it, and there are a variety of techniques you can use to do this. Again, an experienced market research firm can help you out here.
D. Michael Kirby is a freelance writer living in California. He writes about education, marketing, travel and tourism, lifestyle and technology. One of his clients is MarketingWorks, a marketing firm providing specialized services to the education industry.
Visit MarketingWorks here: http://www.marketingworks.com
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