When I began working with associations several years ago, I was baffled by some of the research that groups called “member needs assessments.”
From what I could tell, the purpose of these surveys was far less about identifying members’ current and future issues, challenges and resulting needs than about grading the associations past activities. Certainly, one would expect a certain number of questions to gauge satisfaction, but many associations invested nearly all of their precious research dollars asking: “Did you like this?” “How did we do with that?”
In short, the research looked back in time, giving staff members the opportunity to pat themselves on the back, rather than looking to the future so that the association can proactively make plans about the current and future environment in which their members operate.
So that brings me to the second of the 10 Habits of Highly Effective Researchers.
Habit #2 – Highly effective marketing researchers think in the current and future tense.
The most effective marketing research doesn’t dwell on and dissect past activities. It examines current conditions and projects to the future.
Research can be highly actionable when it identifies the forces that are changing the market and the way consumers or members behave, make decisions and act now. Questions about current challenges, current behaviors and current needs help to confirm that products and services are aligned with member or consumer needs.
Future-oriented research also asks consumers/members to identify what their thoughts and plans are about the future. In some cases, research participants’ reactions to various scenarios can also be useful in helping to identify how members/consumers are likely to act in the future. Getting comparison data about the priority issues they face now and the issues they expect to be spending time on in the future also provides information about how their wants, needs and desires are likely to change.
Next time you examine a questionnaire, tally up the past-focused, current-focused and future-focused nature of the questions. Is there an appropriate balance between gauging how well you’re meeting needs with what you need to do in the future?