Flip the process and start with the report to gain stakeholder buy-in, help focus the questionnaire and develop an effective sample plan.
- Start with the report to get stakeholder buy-in and set expectations early in the process.
- Strive for a streamlined questionnaire to reduce respondent fatigue and improve data quality.
- Utilize question modules that can be rotated within the questionnaire or across waves, when necessary.
- Develop a detailed sample plan to ensure an accurate bid and ensure an adequate sample for analysis. Don’t take sample quality for granted; know your sample provider and sample source.
The insights gained from a tracking study can be one of the most important contributions a research team can make to the success of a company. But because they are such a staple of the research industry, often too little thought goes into planning for success. After conducting thousands of multi-country studies over the past years, the following approach will help ensure the success of your tracker.
3 Tips for Brand Tracking Research
1. Write the Report First
While it may seem counter-intuitive, starting with the report provides focus on the project and is an effective means to gain stakeholder input and buy-in early in the process. Tracking studies, especially multi-country efforts, tend to grow in size, which can compromise the quality of the data and require more time to analyze. This is just as true if you are working with an existing tracker or starting anew.
How do you write a report with no data? Simple, find out what’s important from the people who will be using the information: Senior Management and Key Stakeholders. If working from an existing study, review feedback from previous waves (you did take detailed notes, didn’t you?). Also take the time to present previous waves to new stakeholders (and if you didn’t take detailed notes previously, review with ‘old’ stakeholders too). For new studies, start with a basic tracking study questionnaire outline, and create example charts and tables.
During the report reviews, take the opportunity to discuss the information and insights in detail to make sure they align with the needs of management. This should include not only the evaluative measures like awareness, attitudes, and usage but also profiling and competitive data, as well as regional needs. At the end of these sessions, you should have a good understanding of how the tracking study aligns with corporate goals and KPIs. The time taken at this part of the process will pay out significant dividends throughout the rest of the process.
2. Sweat the Details with Questionnaire Design
Armed with the knowledge gained from reviewing the report with key stakeholders, questionnaire development will be much more efficient. An important part of ensuring success is to prune and prioritize questions to make room for new or more high-priority topics. All too often, questionnaires become bloated with questions from previous waves that are no longer relevant. It is critical the questionnaire be as efficient an instrument as possible.
When developing questions, be sure to utilize
the full range of question types available
through your survey software provider.
Starting with the base questionnaire, take a realistic assessment of how much can potentially be added. Respondent fatigue is a significant factor in both completion rates and overall data quality. That being said, important topics and question areas must be thoroughly investigated. One common mistake is taking a 'one question' approach to understand a topic. Instead, develop question modules that get at more than just a single measure. Also, review the existing questionnaire to see if there are opportunities to insert additional response choices or attributes that could add greater insight to another area of inquiry.
If questionnaire requirements become too large, consider alternative approaches and methodologies, for example:
- Supplement sample and rotate question modules within the questionnaire.
- Rotate question modules across different waves, or in different countries/regions.
- Consider fielding a stand-alone study.
The important thing to remember is that a tracking study questionnaire should not be treated as an opportunity to throw in questions in an attempt to shed light on one-off issues.
3. Know Your Sample Provider
The benefits of the work put into understanding the information and analysis requirements of the tracking study continue when developing a sample plan and choosing a sample supplier. Knowing in advance which sub-groups need to be analyzed ensures that there will be reliable sample data on the backend. This goes for demos and attitudinal profiling questions. In cases where profiling by attitude is important, be sure to look at previous waves to check counts, or look at other studies to get a sense of incidence. An experienced sample provider should be able to provide input based on experience or conduct an incidence check.
Take the time to write a detailed sample plan. Often sample requirements are communicated verbally or with a quick email. This can lead to issues down the line. The more precise the sample plan the more accurate a sample bid will be. Sample suppliers work with a number of factors to generate bids. This is especially true when working internationally, as there are always very specific regional and country nuances that are important to consider. Be sure the firms participating in the bid process have demonstrated expertise in the market.
It is also critical to investigate sample source. Whether you are fielding the study directly or using a full-service supplier, do not take sample quality for granted. This is especially important in tracking studies where wave to wave consistency is required. As the saying goes, 'garbage in, garbage out'. Don’t allow the success of the tracking study to be compromised by poor sample.
Given the cost, effort, and attention from senior management, the stakes for fielding a successful tracking study are high. Starting from the perspective of the end result – the report – provides clarity and focus to the effort. It also garners early buy-in from stakeholders and sets expectations so there are no (or at least fewer) surprises when reporting time comes.