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Why The So What? Factor Is Critical To Research

Dec 19, 2007
The "so what?" factor... What?

Did you know that researchers have found 75% of your customers prefer blue socks to red socks?

Interesting (possibly)... but do you remotely care?

Unless you sell socks or red dye, you'd be justified to ask "so what with the blue socks and the red socks, how does that possibly help my business?"

In doing so, you've applied the "so what?" factor to research.

The "so what?" factor enables you to get precise data. This data enables you to act and make informed decisions. And this data is different from the research reports gathering dust in your bottom drawer because it increases the profitability of your business.

Why the "so what?" factor often gets overlooked during the research process

So why does so much research simply end up stuck in a drawer gathering dust?

Research is about discovering answers and learning new things - it is interesting, satisfying and often very valuable. But in the process, it is easy to lose focus and attempt to answer every conceivable question. The result is very little actionable information and exhausted research participants.

Or as with the red socks and blue socks, you can get hung up on reporting the interesting-but-irrelevant and thereby overlook the most meaningful, actionable and therefore valuable information.

It is only by rigorously applying the "so what?" factor that you can ensure your research stays profitable and dust free.

When do you apply the "so what?" factor to your research process?

The "so what?" factor can and should be applied at every stage of the research process, from deciding whether to undertake a research project, to prioritizing the actions you'll take based on the results.

This can be broken down to six key stages:

1. Justifying/commissioning a research project

This is the time to ask what is the research needed for (e.g, the overall strategic goals) and what your organisation is able/willing to do about the findings. If you aren't ready or able to take any action based on what you learn, there is little point in undertaking research.

2. Planning the research project

Here we get to specifics - who to talk to, what to ask, how to ask it. At this stage the "so what?" factor is about defining the nitty-gritty of the research. If you're planning a survey, for example, apply it to every question you're thinking of asking - if the question can't be absolutely justified, don't include it.

3. Conducting the research

Good researchers are trained to apply the "so what?" factor during the live process of research. They may consider the motivation of an interviewee, probe to discern what focus group participants are really saying or carefully steer conversation to keep it relevant.

4. Analysing and interpreting the data

Data analysts apply a mathematical "so what?" factor, known as statistical significance, in order to determine the degree to which a value is greater or smaller than would be expected by chance. Even if you are not a trained analyst, use your critical faculties to ensure you are comparing like with like and that your insights have appropriate context and are relevant.

5. Presenting research findings

If you present your client, boss or team only with things that have passed the "so what?" factor test - they're far more likely to be awake and interested because there own critical filters will see relevance and so be stimulated to start making connections. Also apply the "so what?" factor to your graphs and charts by asking what function they really serve (beyond showing you're great at Excel).

6. Actioning research findings in an organization

The final stage is implementing actions based on the research. Appropriate "so what?" questioning is essential to help prioritise those actions and to assess whether they had the desired outcomes.

By applying the "so what?" factor to the six key stages of business research, you can be sure that not only will you avoid wasting money on unnecessary work that gathers dust, but you will be able discern information that is important and profitable and banish those irrelevant red socks and blue socks forever.
About the Author
Vicky Brock is Co-Founder of Highland Business Research one of Scotland's leading market research firms. She is reknowned internationally as a conference speaker & workshop leader. She also authors Tracking Tourism, a key travel industry blog.
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