My research is done. Now what?In this third and final installment about research in conjunction with annual planning, I ask the question, “What do I do with my research?” In other words, how can I incorporate what I’ve learned from my research in my annual planning process, particularly as we look toward 2018. My approach to answering this question, to no surprise, is to follow my public relations foundation and to borrow from parts of the traditional Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) four-step management process.

Related: Take a closer look at research types and reporting 

Step 1. Defining your audience
Whether your company conducts formal or informal, qualitative or quantitative research, now is a good time to put everything you learned to use and update information about your target audiences or publics.
These groups are sometimes referred to as stakeholders, although James Grunig, a notable public relations theorist, has four labels to identify these groups – non-publics, latent publics, aware publics, and active publics – in Excellence in Public Relations and Communication Management. Your primary and secondary audiences are likely among the latter two categories: aware and active. This is where you will typically place your greatest emphasis to help advance your company’s goals and objectives. Once you’ve updated your audience profiles, share them with internal audiences as well as outside partners such as your advertising agency.

Step 2. Setting measurable objectives
One of the best methods to utilize your research is to leverage the findings to create measurable objectives for your 2018 marketing efforts. Now that you have a baseline from your research, such as awareness levels, you can set more realistic objectives to move the needle, so to speak. For example, if one of your 2018 goals is to help improve market share in a particular product category, look toward your research to determine if your primary audience is aware of your product and its features and benefits. To what extent are they aware of the product? If you’ve measured your audience’s awareness, you can set a SMART objective to increase awareness from X percent to X percent from January 1, 2018, to December 31, 2018, within your target audience. The SMART acronym in PR circles traditionally stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely.

Step 3. Conducting follow-up research
To effectively measure the success of your objectives, conduct research during and immediately after the campaign timeframe for your SMART objectives. Research done during your timeframe allows you to make adjustments according to how your target audiences or stakeholders are responding to your communications. At the end of your campaign timeframe, your follow-up research shows whether you’ve achieved your objective of increasing awareness or interest in a particular product or service, or if your organization achieved the support it needed to pass local legislation, such as a bond referendum.

Step 4. Increasing technology to gather research faster
It’s no surprise that technology increases the speed at which we can gather information, including preferences from internal and external audiences. A 2017 report on technology trends in the communications industry by PRSA shows that email is used by 95 percent of communicators for internal employee communications – an opportunity for your company to efficiently gather input from key internal audiences.

Related: Do your research before starting annual marketing plans

Looking to external audiences, the report says, “nearly eight out of 10 Americans now own a smartphone.” That’s an increase from 3.5 out of 10 Americans in 2011. Now more than ever it’s important to incorporate mobile technology in your research methods and in your annual planning process. Companies are increasingly using email surveys, designed for responses on a mobile device, to solicit feedback about customers and their experiences at coffee shops and grocery stores. Have you considered using email surveys to gather feedback? If so, what are you doing with that information?

Your survey should be designed for responses from customers viewing it on mobile devices.
Be sure to test the responsiveness of your survey on multiple mobile devices and operating systems. Don’t assume that just because your survey looks great on one platform it will be the same on others. After your customers complete the survey, remember to thank them. Offer a reward for completing the program, such as bonus points in your company’s loyalty program, if your company offers one.

As you wrap up your 2018 planning efforts, consider research before, during, and after you implement your objectives. Clearly document your findings and make them readily available to internal audiences who may be planning their own communication tactics in 2018. Lastly, keep mobile in mind as you’re designing and executing surveys with your targeted audiences.

About Ryan Johnson

Ryan is a PR pro, with an earned accreditation in public relations. He’s a senior public relations supervisor who specializes in copywriting, media relations, and custom publishing. You can pick Ryan’s brain on custom content at