Marketing Fundamentals Turning information into knowledge


I recently attended a learning session in the form of a moderated discussion on the future of banking.  One insightful panelist shared a nugget of wisdom that truly describes our approach to developing client strategy and crafting plans to deliver results.  He said:

            “Ignorance is not the lack of information, it is the perception that you have all of it.”


Many peoples operate on their “gut instincts” or employ the “focus group of one” routine that reflects how they personally would act, respond or decide.  Sometimes the information used to reach a conclusion is conjecture of fact and not really an assembly of detail that can correctly provide direction or analysis.  Many times, people (or credit unions, for that matter) do not have the level of complete information that would be ideal to make substantive decisions or, in the other direction, they have so much information, they get lost in the data.  Either is a recipe for failure and increased expense. Information flow and access to it is vital for a marketer and the organization as a whole.

I would take that even one step further to say that even when you do have the “information” you sought, it only truly becomes helpful when the information is turned into knowledge. So, what is the difference?

The difference between information and knowledge is the ability to apply and create action.  Information is data and thought. Knowledge has been crafted when one distills the information and determines an outcome or path.  Information is found in spreadsheets and charts.  Knowledge is found in summaries and conclusions.

To take information and knowledge off the paper and into your marketing team’s workroom, let’s look at it through the lens of research.  To gather information, you may request an MCIF or crystal report on member balances or new account openings.  Great start!

However, to make it actionable, you need the next level of analysis and thought applied.  Why did the member open those account types? How are member balances trending and what can be learned from the trend?  With this line of thinking, you are creating knowledge.

For credit unions, determining the impact of major decisions such as:

  • staffing changes at a branch
  • location of a branch
  • Branch service hours changes
  • How to enter a new community

All require detailed research that is distilled into a knowledge base upon which the credit union can make supported and accurate decisions.  These type of major decisions require research that is systemic and comprehensive in nature and employ multiple types of research methods.

Typically, general research can be in three forms:

  • Primary: asking members directly their thoughts and reactions
  • Secondary: sifting through data to identify trends and patterns
  • Combination: using data to craft trends and patterns and primary research to confirm, deny or modify conclusions.

Primary research can take the form of quantitative (telephone or internet surveys) or qualitative (focus groups).  Both tools are very useful for distilling and confirming theory or thought.  Quantitative research will result is numerical percentages, standard deviations and scientifically valid results.  While with qualitative your outcome is much more subjective and involves observation and assessment.  Equally useful tools, sometimes the best outcome is when you combine the tools, or at a minimum assign the correct tool to the outcomes needed.  Planning a product launch, you should use both tools.  Determining a branch location, quantitative is probably best.  Revising a branch layout, qualitative will give you a deeper dive into the feelings and variables of decisions.

Our team has completed many focus groups sessions for clients across the country for projects attempting to gather various types of insights and directional information.

If you’ve never done focus groups before, they can be quite handy!  Focus groups allow you to dig into specific subjects and variables in a way that you simply can’t duplicate with quantitative research.

  • Do you want to know why someone chooses a checking account or whom he or she’d go to first for a loan?
  • What about price versus service?
  • Would your market be willing to pay 10 basis points for the absolute best service in town? Great … now how do they DEFINE service?!?!

You can find it all out with focus groups.

Here are a few tips for successful focus groups:

  1. Conduct groups in all relevant markets. You’ll likely find perceptions and purchase criteria are different from market-to- market (and if they’re consistent, that tells us something too!)
  1. Talk to both customers and prospects. Your customers will give you great insight into their experiences with you. Prospects can tell you why they’re not currently banking with you.
  1. Be very targeted in what you want to learn. Identify 3-4 things you MUST learn from the session and 2-3 other items that would be nice.
  1. Be very targeted in whom you want to learn from. Do you need to focus efforts on a specific demographic? Recruit them. Want to learn what a specific competitor’s customers think? Recruit them. Just note that the narrower your target, the more expensive recruiting will likely be.
  1. Stay consistent. Use a professional facilitator who can keep each session consistent so you can use data across all your markets.

When you need scientifically substantiated research to make major decisions or need to feel that you have spoken to a broader audience, qualitative research is your key. For a successful quantitative research project, you must first determine outcome that you are looking to confirm, deny or authenticate.  Starting with the end in mind, ensures that the data generated is aimed at the correct situation.

Here are a few tips for successful quantitative research study:

  1. Know your audience. Targeting your research to the correct audience ensures you are gaining feedback from the impacted group.
  1. Separate your lists. Make sure you have a list of both customers and non-customers and that you have deduped the lists to ensure 100% accuracy.
  1. Know your limits. If you are seeking a scientifically valid outcome, know your parameters for gauging your success.  The number of completes, the universe of participants, etc. will help you calculate the correct numbers.
  1. Keep it focused. When a committee is involved, everyone wants to add questions to the survey. Make it too long and you your respondents, make it too broad and your targeting is now meaningless.
  1. Have a knowledge plan. Create your knowledge plan prior to constructing your research instrument to ensure your outcomes will enable you to reach substantiated results.

In many instances, you may use a combination of research tools to achieve your desired results.  For instance, many times we use a focus group to guide the creation of a telephone research tool. Or in reverse, we use a focus group to dive deeper into results from a telephone or internet survey, to help us interpret the results.

In summary, no matter which tools prove the right tools for your project, make sure to be exhaustive in your search of creating knowledge from the information you are creating.  At that point, the information gained from the research helps craft a knowledge map of tactics to put the outcome into use!

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