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The Value of a Purpose Statement

Lots of time is spent on mission, vision and value statements. Too little time is spent on a statement of purpose.

Writing in Harvard Business Review, Australian management consultant Graham Kenny says mission, vision and value statements have merit in influencing how an "organization should view and conduct itself." The purpose statement is outward-focused and offers the reason why consumers or clients should care.

He gives three examples of effective purpose statements:

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Sorting Out Friendship

The shootings and protests in Ferguson, Missouri, have reminded us that racial divisions remain. New research shows the divide between white and black Americans is wide and personal.

The Public Religion Research Institute released a study showing an average black American has far more friends of a different ethnicity than an average White American. 

The Washington Post's Wonkblog illustrated the gap with a chart.

If an average black American had 100 friends, 83 would be black and the rest of other ethnicities, eight of whom would be white. The average white American would have 91 white friends and only one black friend.

The survey suggests as many as 75 percent of white Americans may not have any black friends. The number of black Americans without white friends is lower, but not much. 

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Speaking Your Audience's Language

Listening and learning how to speak to your target audience is critical to success. Focus groups can help – a lot.Choosing the right word in an advertisement, direct mail solicitation or advocacy piece can make all the difference. Qualitative research is arguably the best way to inform your word selection.

Creative departments come up with campaign themes, phrases and visuals that can be exciting and evocative. But in the eyes and ears of the intended audience, they can be misunderstood or simply confusing.

If your audience doesn't get your message, that's what should get you excited. Excited enough to find out how they interpret your words and images — and what words and images would convey the message you want to get across to them.

That's a job for focus groups. They provide a place to assess your language from the vantage point of your audience. Sometimes, the meaning of your material is clear with a minor tweak. Other times, your message is muddled by the words and images you select and requires a major makeover.

Ego bruising aside, knowing that your words and visuals connect with your audience is worth the effort. It is definitely worth the expense when compared to the vast sums you could waste on advertising that misses its mark.

Focus groups also can provide clues on choices of spokespersons and communication channels. Your words may be right on, but your spokesperson is a turn off whom people don't trust. You may have the right message, but the wrong channel, where your audience doesn't visit.

Speaking the language of your audience is not a constant thing because language changes. Words that had one meaning decades ago may have a whole new meaning or connotation now. Or a word that once was in favor may be out of favor because of its association with a negative event or personality.

Understanding how your audience talks, especially about you and your products, is critical for you to talk effectively to them. Concentrate on what you mean to say and how to say it. Your words matter.


Death of Telephone Surveys Exaggerated

Telephone survey research isn't dead, but it is undergoing some serious surgery. This reliable research tool faces challenges that have forced work-arounds, new techniques and partnerships.

Businesses, nonprofits and political candidates continue to rely on results produced by telephone surveys to introduce products, make decisions and craft marketing messages. However, the savviest users of research recognize the problems facing telephone surveys ​and are pushing pollsters to solve them.

The most obvious challenge is the exploding use of cell phones, which has led many people to abandon their landline telephones. This trend is especially prevalent among younger people and African-Americans. Failing to include cell phone users for a telephone survey can lead to a skewed sample that under-represents those cohorts.

One fix is to combine random digit dialing with a random sample of listed phone numbers. This increases the potential to reach people with unlisted or newly listed numbers, as well as cell phone users. Another strategy is to team telephone interviews with web-based interviews aimed specifically at hard-to-reach target audiences.

The next challenge is to get people to answer their phone. Caller ID allows people to filter their calls and call back only the people they want to talk with. As more people adopt the technique of not answering their phone unless they know who is calling, telephone surveys now require many more calls to achieve a representative sample. More calls translate into more time and more expense.

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The Sample Matters, Not Just the Tool

The Washington Post gave readers an informative glimpse into the debate raging among research professionals over the use of "opt-in Internet survey data," or what we call panel research.

Using databases, as opposed to randomly selected samples, is not new or even exceptional. Organizations that have collected email addresses from customers, patients and stakeholders use panel research on a routine basis to measure everything from customer satisfaction to reactions to advertising to introductions of new products and services.

The qualms over panel research center on its application to public-opinion polling. Traditional researchers believe telephone surveys remain the gold standard and web-based surveys remain untested. Like The Washington Post and New York Times, we respectfully disagree.

The national newspapers use YouGov polling, which relies on representative panels drawn from huge databases. Participants opt in to the panel through an online survey. But the pollsters in charge manage the panel's profile to match the "public" being measured, whether it is the national electorate or likely voters in an Ohio congressional district.

We conduct online research using panels for both market and public-opinion research. Ensuring a representative sample of participants is important whether you are relying on a proprietary database or drawing from databases that you lease. 

Soliciting panel participants from leased databases through email is not all that different than drawing a random sample of phone numbers to call on the telephone. Both generally work on the principle of probability. The skill and integrity of polling comes from making sure wherever your sample comes from, it accurately reflects the constituency you are trying to poll

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