Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t
I love talking about reader research. It always makes me
chuckle — especially in the context of using reader research to help sell
advertising. When I was new to publishing, I’d make plenty of sales
calls in which someone would ask me for reader research to help support
all the positive things I was saying about my titles. Tired of hearing
this request with nothing to show, I’d go back to the shop, put
together some meaningful questions, and return to the front months
later fully armed and dangerous.
The result? "I can’t take seriously any research you commissioned
yourself," they’d say. I guess the implication was I should contact my
competitors and ask them if they collectively wanted to conduct some
independent research on who loves us more. Or, even worse, leave the
matter in the hands of the client’s ad agency, which might find it
scientifically sound to call five customers of the client and ask them
what they read (hard to believe, but this is a real-life
example;hopefully not the norm).
Prepare yourself for any of the following comments from the client or
agency as it relates to reader research to make the sales case:
ﾕ "I don’t pay attention to reader research."
ﾕ "Give me whatever you’ve got."
ﾕ "Anything is better than nothing."
ﾕ "You mean you don’t have anything?"
ﾕ "I’ve never been presented with research in which the
presenter’s publication doesn’t win." (There is a measure of logic to
this. If you used your own database, you know the respondents receive
your publication but you can’t be sure they get the competitors.)
ﾕ "I conduct my own research."
Reader Research for Sales
On the marketing side, we sometimes deal with clients who demand
information and then belittle it. But first things first: Put together
a questionnaire that addresses the types of topics that will help sell
ﾕ Which industry magazines do you read, and which first?
ﾕ Do you make buying decisions?
ﾕ Which industry magazine do you count on most for: News, best
practices, industry trends, relevant features? Basically, whatever your
unique selling proposition says you do. And go ahead and list the
competitors for them to choose from. You can do a lot with this
ﾕ How much time do you spend with the publication?
ﾕ What action steps do you take after seeing an ad or article in the publication?
So you bring in all this good information and the client, as expected,
says, "Yeah, but you did this research yourself;of course you’re going
I explain that we used a reputable research house that employed
neutral, universally accepted methods. The number of responses
generated make the findings projectable over my entire database (if
this is the case, which it usually is), which further validates the
Remind the client that you spend a small fortune in order to constantly
refine and update subscriber files to the point where they probably
represent an incredibly accurate picture of your marketplace. Sometimes
I even point out our competitors would have the right to make the same
claims with their own research for the same reasons;fair is fair. Any
information garnered from your database as the primary source of
research should have tremendous value to anyone interested in how your
market thinks and functions.
Then I take it a step further. I tell them that I’m not going to show
them the results of the total research because that is not the best,
fairest information I can deliver. What I do show them are the findings
only from the respondents who indicate they receive my publication as
well as my primary competitors.
Chances are you are still a winner in this more finely tuned domain,
yet not by as wide a margin. But it’s a more realistic indicator of
where you stand, and certainly more practical and believable. You are
trying to anticipate the doubts of your client, put yourself in his or
her shoes, and present data that positions you in the role of trusted,
and not totally prejudiced, industry consultant.
Reader research can be the cornerstone of your media kit and sales
pitch. Upon further review, let me cite my headline above to conclude:
Damned if you don’t.
Alkon is head of Publishing Solutions, a consulting firm that helps
media companies improve their products, tighten strategies, and spot
new revenue sources. Visit his Web site at www.publishsolutions.com or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.