Research – It’s a Process not

Following on our conversation with Dean West of Association Laboratory, we reflected on our own methodology for reporting back to our clients on the success of various affinity programs. Advancea has a technology platform that services our clients and allows for an easy solution to make benefits accessible to members.  Over time though, we have realized that to make the relationships work and mutually benefit the members as well as the trade organizations, we need to think like corporate marketers, gathering data, analyzing the results, and ultimately iterating to remain relevant and beneficial.

In our discussion with Dean, he made the poignant statement that in the world of market research the fundamental difference between the association mindset and the corporate one, is that associations view market research as a project and corporations tend to see it as a process. How does this impact results? Let’s look at the two ways of thinking.

Market Research as a Project

A project has a beginning, an end, and a key objective to accomplish.  It is a snapshot in time and can answer a specific question. This requires a concentration of effort all at once, limited data sets to accomplish it within the time frame, and often results in a short list of directives.  Due to the nature of a project, rarely will you see someone test and experiment with the outcomes because again, it is finite.  We had a question, we answered it.

Market Research as a Process

A process is iterative, a system for working through a challenge that can be flexible over a longer time horizon. Finding the answers to one challenge may result in suggested tactics for correction but with a process, a stage of experimentation can be inserted, leading to iterations of the solution.  As new insights are seen and processed, alternative tactics can be tested, and potentially new challenges will be brought to light.

Evaluating an Affinity Partner

Let’s put this into the context of an affinity program, something we know well.  A project mentality of market research might have us gather with our clients once a year to review the facts at a moment in time. Things such as total revenue, total click throughs to partner offers, and perhaps a survey to members with only qualitative data might be in this annual review. It may even only take the entire affinity program into account, rather than looking at a partner-by-partner data set.

Now let’s think of this as a process.  In our Perks Marketplace™, we collect information with every interaction on the platform.  There is both qualitative information such as how many visitors went to the site, how many clicks a partner received, and even a rating scale where members can say how much they like a particular partner offer.  Additionally, there is quantitative information where a member can offer their comments on a benefit and their experience.  As a process, this data can be seen in a dashboard format and acted upon daily, weekly, even hourly.  Iteratively an association can tweak promotions and offers based on immediate member feedback.

As a project, we may make yearly decisions focused on limited data.  As a process, we are making day-to-day decisions based on real time information coming from the interactions within the platform.

The River

Dean painted the picture for us of collecting information in the “creeks” of the interactions which ultimately form the “river” of a member’s overall experience.  A simple change of mindset can create a more efficient and less expensive process which ultimately will yield better data and more importantly, the time to adjust and mitigate the risks along the way.

Research-based insights are critical to developing the strategy, a process will help implement that strategy while creating agility to respond and correct the tactics and reinforce or change the strategy. 

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