Going Beyond Instinct: How Research Can Inform Good Communications

Every pilot knows you can’t navigate cloudy skies by sight – they must rely on radar and other instruments or they will veer off course, get turned around, or crash. Neither should businesses and organizations try to navigate today’s fast-moving markets based solely on what’s in front of them.

Whether you are developing a product and go-to-market strategy, designing a new website, or crafting messaging and a communications plan, you can always benefit from a deeper understanding of your target audiences, the competitive market and your niche within it.

Letting the Data Speak

So many marketing and communications decisions today are based on digital audience analytics. These are an important foundation for assessing the who, what and where of your customer, prospect or donor audience. But only when you ask your customers or other audiences can you uncover the why, which allows your business to move from reactive to proactive. Quantitative survey research is essential for better understanding your audience and informing a strategy to engage with them more effectively.

Publicly, survey data can be used as evidence to confirm existing hunches or anecdotal beliefs, or to highlight new information that is educational or that serves as a call-to-action. Have a favorite talking point? Back it up with data. These insights can help win over investors or other internal stakeholders, customers, donors, and everyone in between.

Numbers Don't Tell the Whole Story

Sometimes we don’t know why we do what we do or think what we think, but a skilled researcher can uncover clues with creative interview techniques or by observing non-verbal cues. Focus groups and in-depth interviews can illuminate how your audience perceives nebulous concepts or sensitive topics, such as brand image or company culture. Ethnography can uncover serendipitous insights by observing audiences in their natural context or environment.

Secondary research such as landscape analyses, meanwhile, can provide a high-level perspective on issues like voice, values, brand positioning and audience engagement strategies, both for your own organization and for your competitors. In so doing, they can also help chart what Pinkston likes to call "green space" (because, is there really any true “white space” anymore?) — uncrowded market territory where your organization will have opportunity to grow.

Research in Action

Pinkston recently fielded a survey for Citadel Sciences, a systems integrator that offers a cost-effective, integrated clean-air solution for schools and businesses. This simple but thoughtfully designed research instrument provided a variety of benefits and applications.

Interviews were conducted online with approximately 1,000 parents of school-age children and 300 teachers in Texas. The company was able to use the findings in several ways:

  • Strengthening business development strategy — Citadel offered these results to school principals and district superintendents to demonstrate how high of a priority indoor air quality was among parents and teachers in their community. Citadel wasn't inventing demand, only effectively proving that it was there.

  • Developing effective and targeted messaging — Parents and teachers had location-specific preferences regarding how school administrators communicated about COVID-19 safety protocols and indoor air quality. With these insights, Citadel could assist its target audience of superintendents in communicating with individual stakeholders — developing communications campaigns to drive home the benefits of clean air technologies.

  • Generating opportunities for thought leadership — Proprietary insights and data are an effective strategy for elevating your voice as a leader on a given topic or within a specific industry. The survey armed Citadel spokespeople with impressive statistics about the commitment of teachers to student success, the expectations and priorities shared by parents and the community, and the common-ground insights bridging a politically divisive climate.

  • Creating business impact and outcome — Most importantly, the findings helped usher newfound interest and opportunity among previously untapped customers, including sizable K-12 service centers that have tremendous influence over large districts within their county area. Citadel is now an approved vendor for several purchasing cooperatives, which allows schools to quickly learn about their offerings and purchase various services — bypassing the additional hurdles outside suppliers must jump through.


We love helping our clients see clearer and climb higher with research that powers their business or mission, then putting that data into action through communications and marketing strategies and execution. Got questions? Let’s explore them together.