It's a given that market research will come in all shapes and sizes. "We see custom research that reaches into the six figures in cost," writes Mike Sweeney at the Marketing Trenches blog. "We see simple user research that can be executed for as little a few hundred dollars. We see some very well-planned research with clear objectives in mind, and we see some of the most misguided research that money can buy."

Too frequently, though, research projects share one serious flaw: They lack a clear action plan for the data. And, according to Sweeney, the typical post-presentation process goes something like this:

  • A research firm receives payment for a job well done.
  • The CEO or sponsoring executive implores everyone to make excellent use of the material; the team promises to do so.

And what happens next? "Nothing," says Sweeney. "Sure, an occasional email gets shot around—you know, the unproductive kind that involves 18 people—that cites stats from the research report as some type of justification for a new plan of attack. But it typically ends at that."

To explain how you might instruct your team, Sweeney paraphrases an email from a COO who told executives to incorporate specific market research in their 2011 plans: "This data is not intended to represent cool numbers that we can throw at investors and partners, but rather data that shapes exactly how plan and execute in areas like products, services, communications, marketing, and business development."

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