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Guest Opinion: Start With Research for On-Air Success in DRTV

11 Jul, 2010 By: Doug Garnett Response

One of my employees recently attended a talk by the head of a large brand DRTV agency. This executive claimed that there is no reason to do research early in a project. Why? It hasn’t helped increase success at his agency.

That’s a stunning admission for a brand agency. Early research is thoroughly proven to increase results. My team uses it to deliver success in nine out of 10 campaigns.

At the same time, I’m not surprised by his comments. Tapping the power of research in advance of a project requires a sophisticated sense of communication. Too many DRTV decisions are made by production teams that aren’t trained in these advertising skills.

Trial-and-Error is Not Research

There’s a seductive argument given for skipping early research that goes something like: “Consumer research is conducted in an artificial situation, so it can’t be trusted. What we can trust is whether people buy the product. Therefore, the only reliable test is an on-air test.”

Let’s be brutally honest. On-air testing tells us nothing about why a campaign did or didn’t work. Even worse, by the time you’re on-air, you can’t afford to fix the creative because you’ve already blown your production budget.

Early Research Has the Most Impact

Research money should be spent when and where it can make the most difference. Early in the project, it can guide big issues: messages, creative approaches, production styles and the offer. Early research also builds critical guidelines for thousands of quick decisions about scripts, testimonials, actors, staging, graphics and directorial choices — decisions that make the difference between success and failure.

Avoid Common Research Mistakes

One reason many DRTV agencies avoid early research is that they don’t know what to do with it. Some firms even conduct research to please their clients despite knowing their own teams will never make use of it.

Testimonial development teams may want to do your research but take care. These firms specialize in getting consumers to say what you want them to say. Research requires listening to what consumers think and feel — even hearing things you may not enjoy.

Some agencies take shortcuts, like having account execs lead focus groups — often in the agency lunchroom. In this case, your agency is likely to hear exactly what it wants to hear, not the challenging truths that are critical to success.

The most pervasive research errors I encounter are with dial groups. Producers love dissecting their finished work frame-by-frame with the detail found through dial groups. Sadly, this detail rarely matters. DRTV fails because of big issues: how the product is presented, the credibility of the presentation, the value it claims to deliver and how meaningful this is to consumers.

Learn Your Way to Success

Early research can’t guarantee success — nothing can. But dedicating a portion of every budget to learning from consumers increases your chances dramatically.

Brand clients often assume their existing studies will work for DRTV. But general brand research usually can’t give us the insights we need for DRTV success. The most useful early learning comes from qualitative work. Surveys offer concrete answers. But only methods like focus groups reveal the heart and soul of the consumer.

Research Can Make It Right the First Time

Too many clients come to us with failed campaigns that were created by agencies that reject early research. Most of these products should have been successful. But it’s often too late, because wrong assumptions have made the work unsalvageable and clients can’t afford to pay for dramatic changes.

So when an agency tells you that early research isn’t productive, they’re really saying that it doesn’t know how to use it. And that means you should pick up the phone and find one of the excellent DRTV agencies that does.


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