7 Deadly Research Mistakes-And How To Avoid Them

7 Deadly Research Mistakes-And How To Avoid Them

by Mike Shepard

You’re ready for that next big research project that will define your station brand. Wait, what? You have a research budget? Congratulations! But let’s make sure your investment produces actionable results that point you in the right direction. I’ve conducted thousands of research projects for clients through Shepard Media Research. And I’ve recognized 7 deadly research mistakes many media companies make.

Audience research for radio can provide insight and great value. Most successful companies in other industries invest a significant amount of money each year in research and development (R & D). They conduct market research projects to inform decisions that are critical to the success of the company. They understand the power of data and how it impacts the return on investment. But the return has to be there.

Good research pays for itself many times over. And the opposite is also true. Bad research is worse than no research at all!

So, how do you get the most value out of a potential research project? A good start is to avoid these common mistakes:

7 Deadly Research Mistakes

First, understand that the list of things that can go wrong in a research project are not limited to these 7 mistakes. But these are the most common, and if you’ve been around stations that have commissioned a project, there’s a good chance you’ve been a victim of at least one.

Deadly Research Mistake #1: Not Setting Goals

The first step for each research project should be to establish a clear statement of purpose that identifies the  goals for the project. In other words, why are you doing it?

What is it – exactly – that you hope to learn from the study? Setting clear parameters is key when it comes to designing the sample to recruit and questions to ask.

A vague goal, such as a “general checkup” inevitably leads to a lack of focus in the survey. And that produces no actionable data.

Pushing an Agenda

There’s nothing wrong with having a hunch or hypothesis about what the research may reveal. That’s healthy. You should have an instinct to work from. Your morning show may in fact, be really bad. Or it may be terrific. Or that format tweak you have in mind may be a winner.

Just remember that you want an objective look at the possibilities outlined in the study goals. Designing a study with an agenda to prove a point may yield answers you want to see, which could be misleading at best. Research should never be designed with a goal of proving your opinion is on target.

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Maintain objectivity in the study design and analysis.

Deadly Research Mistake #3: Talking to The Wrong People

Whether a project is conducted on-line, over the phone, or in-person, asking the right questions of the right people is key.

For example, if the goal is to determine the potential of a new format in the market, use a broad, cross-sectional sample of the market to measure the audience potential against a particular demographic.

On the other hand, if you are screening a music test for a niche format, a much more specific criteria is appropriate. In that case, you’d want a percentage P1 and music cluster preferences.

Perhaps even more dangerous is using listener clubs to represent the entire market, or even your station’s audience. This can turn a well-designed project into a distorted reality quickly.

Asking Too Much of the Research

As you might imagine, I am a big believer in audience research. It is much better to make decisions based on data than flying by the seat of your pants or using only your “gut” based on personal preference.

That said, research can not program a radio station, show or podcast. It is a tool that informs programming decisions.

I’ve seen actual studies where the respondents were asked this question:

Would you listen more or less if station A played 2 more 90s per hour?

Think about that. The respondent can’t tell you that! Asking “predictive” research questions is impossible to measure. They have no idea how to respond to it. Stop asking the audience to make programming decisions. It simply doesn’t work.

Great radio is the perfect intersection of art and science. Use the science to guide the art.

Deadly Research Mistake #5: Cheaping Out

Quality research costs money. Plain and simple.

There are ways to make it more affordable, which I’ll explain in a future article. But the fact is that there are certain costs involved in recruiting a valid sample. And we’ve already talked about how important it is to talk to the right people (Deadly Research Mistake #3).

Unfortunately, this has given rise to opportunistic “cheap” research vendors who are willing to field a project for much less. This compromises quality. You usually end up with an unrealistically small sample size, lack of quality control from the fielding service, or “loose” samples that include the wrong people.

Don’t cheap out. Spend the money to do it right, or don’t do it at all because bad research is worse than no research.

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Interpreting The Results

Great radio programming atrocities have been committed in the name of “following the research”.

Ideally, hire a trusted company with experience in radio programming (like Shepard Media Research) to help analyze the data and interpret the results.

Digesting the information gathered is best done as a collaboration with station management and the research expert manner. If the company conducting a project simply dumps the data with little to no analysis or perspective, run the other way. The same applies to companies that insist their conclusions and plan are the only solution with little or no input from station personel.

Deadly Research Mistake #7: Failing to Act

Assuming the project is designed and conducted properly, success comes with implementing the plan that comes from the results.

Sometimes this takes courage, conviction and ability to take action on the findings. There’s nothing more frustrating than identifying a format opportunity or learning that a station is loved but unknown, then sitting on the data.

A quality research project sitting on the shelf is an expensive waste of time, money and effort. Create a realistic plan from the data, execute that plan, and monitor progress over time with follow up projects.


Conducting audience research that provides ROI takes commitment, a realistic budget, a trusted partner, and the ability to take action. If you have any questions about research, please drop me a note at [email protected]

I’d be happy to help. Here’s to your success!

Author: Mike Shepard

Mike Shepard is an accomplished major-market radio programmer, media strategist, talent coach and market research professional with 30 years of success.

Mike propelled the legendary Country giant KSON/San Diego to its highest ratings ever and directed programming for Classic Hits K-BEST 95 and Smooth Jazz KIFM.

Mike has coached high-profile talent, including Jack Diamond, Tony and Kris, Scott Kaplan, Bert, Lisa Dent, Rich “Brother” Robbin, Jack Murphy, Lee “Hacksaw” Hamilton and many more.

In addition to his consulting expertise, Mike brings a deep research background to the team. He continues to own and operate Shepard Media Research.

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