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Can you afford not to pretest your Communications?

By Angelo Ponzi

Take a moment and ask yourself: What’s the cost to your company if you don’t research your communications prior to development? Can you really afford to print those materials, launch your website, invest in the production of your advertising and, in turn, invest thousands of dollars in media while not really knowing if your messages will motivate, persuade, build awareness, change buying behaviors or meet any other goal you have set?

There are three basic types of methodologies you can use to determine if your messages and creative executions are on strategy and that the communications you are implementing have the best opportunity to influence your target audiences. These are: qualitative, quantitative and analytical.

Qualitative research, of which the most common form is focus groups, is a great resource for strategy development. Focus groups are good for exploring positioning, ideas, messaging, issues or attitudes among a sampling of your target audience. 

Quantitative or survey research is what most companies envision when they think of research. Quantitative research involves a survey of a statistically significant sample of a specific group from whom you want to gather information. 

For example, a network integration company might want to talk to the C-suite of Fortune 1000 companies. Or a company may want to talk to engineers who specify components in their companies’ computer systems to determine attitudes and preferences toward a supplier or the supplier’s product attributes.

For quantitative research to be effective, you need a statistically significant, representative sample of your target. For many B2B marketers, identifying and recruiting them to participate in the study can be cost prohibitive.

A third and fairly new methodology is the use of analytics. This involves the use of a vast knowledge base consisting of proprietary and secondary research, articles and academic papers covering behavioral sciences, cultural traits, marketing, memory theory, learning theory, semiotics and other disciplines that have an impact on successful communications. Unlike traditional human focused market research that will tell you whether your advertisement is good or not, analytics can explain specifically why or how to fix it.

But selecting the right analytical-based partner is critical. Seek out partners that have a track record, and are methodologically sound and validated. These are the criteria that separate an analytical-based research partner from a consultant.

So, which type of research do you use to test and validate your communications and achieve your objectives?  That depends on your communications objectives and strategies and, potentially, your budget.

I always advise companies to budget 10% of the campaign for communications research. With more effective communications, the remaining 90% will have a greater impact.  This makes more sense than delivering the wrong messages using 100% of your media budget.

Using research to test your communications is a powerful, cost-effective tool that can be used by companies of any size.  Regardless of the size of your business, the more you understand how to use research to test your communications prior to development, the more effective it can be in giving you a competitive advantage.

Angelo Ponzi is director of client services at PhaseOne, where he works with the PhaseOne research department on social media engagement strategies. He can be reached at

Comments (2)
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Eric Wittlake
Posted Nov 01, 2012 at 09:23 AM

Angelo, I agree, you definitely need to pretest before making a huge commitment. Depending on the kind of program you are testing, don't ignore A/B testing for website changes, email testing to a sample from your list or a small ad campaign designed purely to test performance. There are definitely disadvantages to these approaches at times, but they have the distinct advantage of being tests in the wild, where the marketing program will eventually run. Because of that, they are often more predictive of the actual results.

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Teri Sawyer
Posted Oct 18, 2012 at 11:43 AM

Insightful peace that helped me understand types and benefits of marketing research. As a PR agency owner, it is helpful to know what we need to be doing as marketers in integrating all our communication -- and the right communication.

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