Elevate Your Communication by Shifting from Art to Science

It Starts with Research


By Melanie Wilt, Shift•ology Communication

Using data to drive your communication decisions will save you time, money and guesswork. At Shift•ology, one of our core philosophies is that communication is a science – the science of creating meaning. And, while a good bit of communication involves art, it must be backed up by data to reach your audience, convince them with compelling messages, and win their trust. Starting a science-based communication approach means setting aside your assumptions and listening to what your target audience needs and wants from you, what will make their lives better, and how you can answer that need with your products or services. 

But exactly how far should you go with research? Well, it depends on your existing certainty, budget,  timeframe and a few other things. To determine the appropriate opinion research methods for your company, you should consider the following factors:

  1. Research objectives: What do you want to accomplish with the research? Are you looking to understand customer satisfaction, measure brand awareness, evaluate a product or service, or gauge public opinion on a particular issue? The research objectives will determine the research method you should use.
  2. Sample size: How many people do you need to survey to get reliable results? This will depend on the size of your target audience and the level of accuracy you require. For just about any sample size, 301 completed surveys will give you very high statistical significance, meaning you can feel confident your data is representative of your audience. 
  3. Time and budget constraints: How much time and money do you have to conduct the research? Some research methods are more time-consuming and expensive than others. And, while the more you spend, the more confident you can be, it may not always be necessary to invest big dollars. For example, you may need to have a higher degree of confidence in the campaign you’ve developed to ensure the messaging connects with your target audience, but time is not on your side because your boss wants you to roll out the campaign in the next 30 days. In this case, a good approach would be to do some qualitative message testing research. You may only be able to get feedback from a few people in the target audience, but you will know if you need to make any tweaks before going into the campaign using only your assumptions. These small samples can help “poke holes” in your campaign to improve it. 
  4. Type of data required: Do you need quantitative or qualitative data? Quantitative data is numerical data that can be measured and analyzed statistically, while qualitative data is descriptive and subjective. For example, if you want to gauge opinions about the packaging for a new product, you would be better suited to do qualitative research like an in-person focus group. But, if you need to know the likelihood that people in the market will purchase the product, you should include quantitative research in the mix. 
  5. Target audience: Who are you trying to survey? Are they accessible through online surveys or phone interviews, or do you need to conduct in-person focus groups? How concentrated is your geography, and how practical is it to reach the audience in person, versus via phone or virtual focus group? 

Based on these factors, some common opinion research methods that you could consider for your company include:

  1. Online surveys: Online surveys are a cost-effective way to reach a large audience quickly. They can be tailored to your specific research objectives, and the results can be analyzed easily.
  2. Phone interviews: Phone interviews can be useful for reaching people who are not accessible through online surveys. However, they can be time-consuming and expensive. We recommend doing a few phone surveys at the beginning of your research process to gain insights that will make your focus group and survey questions more specific and insightful. 
  3. Focus groups: Focus groups are a qualitative research method that can provide detailed insights into customer attitudes and opinions. They can be conducted in person or online. We typically recommend focus groups of 8-12 people and less than 90 minutes. Our experience shows this size group allows a good bit of interaction and the timeframe allows for plenty of follow-up discussion without losing energy or engagement. 
  4. Customer feedback forms: Customer feedback forms can be used to gather feedback on specific products or services. They can be implemented on your company’s website, social media pages, in-store, or at the conclusion of an event. 
  5. Social media monitoring: Social media monitoring involves tracking mentions of your brand or product on social media. This can provide insights into customer opinions and preferences.

Ultimately, the best opinion research method for your company will depend on your specific research objectives, target audience and available resources. It may be beneficial to consult with a research professional to determine the most appropriate research method for your needs.