Research to Reality: Using Data to Develop Strategy

Test the waters! Scout ahead! One step at a time! Common phrases expressing the same concept: it’s usually a good idea to know what you’re getting into before diving in. Prior to launching any kind of communications campaign – whether you’re in PR, public affairs, advertising or marketing – you need to know what drives your audience before crafting your message. At the June 19 Maine Public Relations Council professional development session, “Research to Reality: Using Data to Develop Strategy,” it was illustrated how incorporating research into your campaign strategy is the best way to gather information on your audience that will shape your messaging and maximize your impact.

“You can’t begin a campaign without data,” advised Cintia Miranda, President of Pulse Marketing Agency and one of three panelists at the event. “Without research, you’re working entirely on perceptions,” which may not be representative of your target audience. Professional research vendors like Kennebunk-based Digital Research, Inc., who advised the Maine Office of Tourism on its recent ad campaign, actively work with communications professionals and their clients to move beyond perception, eliminate guesswork and determine what matters most.

Knowing what resonates with and motivates your audience enables you to customize your campaign and maximize its influence. Miranda described how focus groups and qualitative research methods completely shaped her outreach strategy for raising awareness of the Sebasticook Valley Health Coalition, a campaign targeted toward middle school and high school students in a specific geographic area. According to Maine Office of Tourism Director, Carolann Ouellette, partnering with market researchers like Scott Pimley at Digital Research, Inc. helped the agency develop three highly-specific, evidence-backed tourist segment profiles, which then became the focus of the MOT’s successful ad campaign and helped narrow what would otherwise have been an extremely broad and likely ineffectual project scope.

Cost concerns and impact uncertainty can deter businesses from incorporating professional research services into their communications strategy. But in Pimly’s experience, modern research tools, including online survey panels, can often cut costs and condense project timeframes by: 

  • streamlining the process of sample identification (finding your intended target);
  • reducing the risk of having to retool a campaign (less guesswork); and
  • enabling clients to get in and out of potential target markets faster and without committing significant resources to riskier projects.

Pimley also cautioned that research vendors can vary, especially when engaging with clients in less familiar industries. “Don’t hesitate to reach out to the market research community to see what they can do for you,” Pimley advised. He added that in order to define the scope and manage expectations, the key to a successful research strategy is open communication between the client developing the campaign and the market researcher.

All in all, I found this workshop to be extraordinarily practical, accessible and timely. Thank you so much to all of the event’s organizers. Looking forward to the next session in the fall!

About Maine Public Relations Council

Maine Public Relations Council is a professional association of Maine public relations practitioners who are dedicated to the professional development of its members and to a greater awareness of the role of public relations in the world today. MPRC’s membership includes individuals who have some current professional PR responsibility (or are retired PR professionals) and reside in or have business affairs in Maine; students pursuing careers related to PR or professionals interested in PR but working in another field may also apply for membership. 

— by Josiah Petrin, Broadreach Apprentice