Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The How-Tos of Phone Research

In my last post, I discussed the benefits of conducting telephone research in the Internet age.  Today, I'd like to discuss how it works.  Basically, first you need to find phone numbers and then pick one of two approaches: white hat or black hat.

Getting phone numbers

For once, business-to-business (B2B) marketers have a much easier time than their colleagues in business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing.  Naturally, businesses want to be known, so they put their phone numbers on business cards, brochures, novelty t-shirts and, of course, the Internet.  Try reaching business contacts at the start of their business days (e.g. before 9 for office workers, before 10 for shop owners, etc.) to catch them before they get busy.

Consumers, however, offer a much greater challenge.  Many consumers keep their phones unlisted or have abandoned land lines altogether.  Moreover, consumers have expectations of privacy that business people don't.  If someone called you seemingly at random to ask you about paper towels or what-have-you, you'd probably freak out.

Instead, researchers hoping to connect with consumers should try reaching out to friends and friends of friends.  It's much easier to get something going by saying "Bob gave me your number."  Of course, this approach necessarily limits the types of people you'll interview.  However, given the nature of qualitative research, this limitation shouldn't matter much.

In either case, don't forget to ask for additional names and numbers to call.

White Hat

Now that you'd gotten people to call, how do you actually go about asking for the information you want?

Just as with any other qualitative research, the researcher needs to begin by creating a discussion guide.  As always, this guide should cover the questions that will get at the key learning objectives.  However, given the nature of the research, the guide should differ from typical interview or focus group guides in that you must Get. To. The. Point.  There's no warm-up.  No icebreaker exercises.  Unless you have a really controversial or hard-to-discuss topic, start with the questions you really need answers to first.

When it comes to the interview itself, introduce yourself clearly and tell the respondent why you're calling.  Quickly.  Something like "I'm Darrin Stephens from McMann & Tate Advertising, where I work on the Acme Supply Company account.  I got your name from Wile E. Coyote.  I was hoping I could pick your brain for a few minutes about roadrunner removal products."

You'd be surprised how well this direct approach works.

You might need to add some standard disclaimers such as "we won't use your name" and "we're not trying to sell you anything; we just want your opinion."  Even in this age of social media, most people feel their opinions don't matter, so in cases where opinions clearly do matter, people like to speak up.  Besides, talking to someone on the phone now actually has something of a novelty factor to it these days.

From there, it's pretty much like any other interview, with one key difference: be more vocal.   In face-to-face research, you can nod, change your body language or use quiet vocalizations ("uh huh") to signal that you're listening.  Not on the phone.  Don't interrupt your respondent, but do say things like "that's interesting," "I hear you" or "tell me more" to let him or her know that you're listening.

Black Hat

First, let me say that you reeeeeaaaaallllyyyy shouldn't do this.  It's dishonest and honesty is something that few marketers can afford to take lightly.  I can't say that a younger Plannerben never donned the black hat, but I wouldn't try it now.  As noted marketing research authority Danny Glover said, "I'm too old for this shit."

That said, well, I'll share this write-up from my old fellow traveler Thomas Kouns:
When I was a junior account planner at the advertising agency Mad Dogs & Englishmen I was assigned to work on the MovieFone new business pitch [previous to their acquisition by AOL]. Early on in the planning process, we identified that a key target audience of MovieFone’s business model were media buyers at advertising agencies who bought advertising on MovieFone which was one of their main revenue generators.  
I desperately wanted to interview this key segment but couldn’t as they worked at competing ad agencies. However, I decided to take a somewhat "alternative" approach in order to obtain the needed information. I decided to call agencies in the Los Angeles area posing as an account planner from an affiliate agency in another city who was working on the MovieFone pitch. 
I went by the alias "Dave Fleishman" from McCann, Ogilvy etc. and would speak to media planners asking them the same questions I would have  had I been interviewing them in an actual focus group. They were more than willing to speak with me as I was playing for "their team," so to speak. 
As it turned out, the insights we generated from this novel and unorthodox research was a key factor in our agency winning the pitch as it demonstrated our "out of box" thinking as well as uncovering new information that was even MovieFone was unaware of.
In our open-plan office, we must have heard Tom say "hi, I'm Dave Fleishman" about a dozen times.  We all thought it was funny that Tom, blessed with blonde, surfer-boy looks chose that pseudonym. "I guess I always wanted to be Jewish," he said later.  Atta boy, Tom.  Such a yiddishe kop, that one.

And that's how phone research works.  Now, it's your call.

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