In today’s constantly shifting business climate, tracker studies can be an important tool to understand the impact of changes in the business and the wider environment. Trackers gather information about brand image, ad effectiveness, campaign impacts and other business changes over time. They consist of multiple waves of studies that collect and analyze data over a period of a few days to many years. Marketers in the B2B and consumer space use data from trackers to guide their business decisions.
But with customer behaviors and the corporate world shifting and re-forming faster than ever before, how can a market research company prove the value or ROI of tracking studies? And how can sample and data collection providers deliver consistency so marketers and researchers can isolate the impact of business or market change?
The foundation for any well-run tracker is made of four key components:
- meticulous planning
- the right sample
- a well-designed questionnaire; and
- an experienced, proactive delivery team
If you’re considering conducting a tracker study—or if you’re in the middle of one—it’s important that these elements be in place, and that you’ve had a conversation with your team so that everyone’s on the same page about the tracker: where it’s been in the past, where it is now, and where it’s going in the future.
Questions to ask yourself might include:
1) Have I identified the purpose of the tracker, the stakeholders, the target audience, how the data will be used, and what the measures of success are?
Clear planning and goals are the foundation for gathering the right information over time. What business issues are you trying to understand with a longitudinal study?
2) What are the sample sources, how are respondents recruited—and will there be enough people to sustain my tracker long term?
It’s important to understand where the people who will be taking your tracker survey come from so you understand any potential biases that may exist. What are the quality controls in place to ensure people will answer carefully and honestly? And how does your provider ensure a consistent supply of sample across the entire life of your study?
SSI, for example, maintains a separate Tracker Sample Blend, which is managed with consistency as a very high priority. Before any new sample is introduced, its potential impact on the overall blend is carefully tested. SSI blends its sample on broad personality and behavioral traits of individual people, not on sources – because sources can and do change over time. (For example, the profile of Facebook users a decade ago was mostly US college students – very different from today’s Facebook user population).
3) How do you write an effective questionnaire that yields high-quality data?
Whether the questionnaire is intended for a consumer or business audience, remember that people’s attention diminishes after 15-20 minutes, so look for ways to make the survey as lean as possible. Keep the respondent experience in mind; taking a survey should never feel like a burden.
4) What if we need to make changes to our tracker?
At some point, you may need to modify your tracker, especially if it’s a multi-year study. Changes in the environment may require you to redesign the questionnaire – for example it is essential to include a mobile-friendly version of your tracker today. Or changes may have happened in your business environment. Perhaps your target demographic has changed, you have entered a new market, or you need to adjust your brand list to reflect different competitor brands.
SSI recommends a three-step approach when changing tracker elements: map out the study changes and their relative importance; do a parallel test; then make decisions about how to manage any resulting changes.
The business world will always be in flux, but change doesn’t have to mean you sacrifice continuity of research data. An experienced market research and sampling team will anticipate change on all possible fronts, and plan for it—ensuring you’ll have valuable, reliable data from your study over the long term.