Strategic Communication Modes of Inquiry

The Assignment

                I facilitated in creating this survey report for my Strategic Research Methods course in the fall of 2014. In this report, my team and I reviewed our goals and objectives, methodology, data analysis and detailed findings. After that, we described the implications and knowledge gained from our survey research. Finally, the report included any of our shortcomings and future research as well as our survey questionnaired and SPSS data.

            In order for our client, Elon University’s Health and Human Performance Department, to understand why we conducted this survey and why we asked the questions we did, this survey report was necessary. In the background section, we described the study context. Here, we reviewed the survey target audiences and total participants. Our objectives were to first gauge the respondents’ knowledge of the Health and Human Performance Department, as well as their general knowledge of the Wellness and Health Education minor. The other objective was to determine the best communication techniques to use when introducing the new minor to students at Elon. We reviewed our hypotheses and research questions to confirm our hypotheses. It was important that our team also added conceptual definitions. A conceptual definition is a critical element in the research process that involves scientifically defining a specific concept (or variable) so it can be systematically measured. For example, one variable we explored was how respondents receive information about minors; therefore, participants were asked where they have received information about choosing a minor in the past or how they would like to receive the information. Explaining our methodology is also a very crucial element of the survey report. In our methodology section, we reviewed our sampling plan with our sample population, participants, sample frame, and procedures.

            The most important part of our survey report is the data analysis and detailed findings. In this section, we briefed the client on a summary of responses to our survey questions. Under each of our survey questions, we analyzed the responses, keeping in mind the objectives of our research for the Health and Human Performance Department. For example, in our survey we asked, “If you have a minor, what influenced you to select your minor?” We concluded that many students select a minor because it related to a subject that was of interest to them. These implications suggest that it may be worthwhile to target students who express an interest in health and wellness outside of the classroom. These segments may include but are not limited to those who reside in the Health and Wellness living and learning community, S.P.A.R.K.S., The Public Health Society, or any other student organization that places an emphasis on health and wellness. These implications are probably the most important part for our client to read. It is the go-to section for our client to understand what our research will do for our shared objectives.

            With all ethical research, it is important to include any shortcomings of the specific study and recommendations for future research. In our survey report, we admitted that our sample size could have been larger. We found that our sample size was a limitation from the start. We aimed to survey those students who had taken one or more classes that are required for the Health and Wellness minor as well as students in the Health and Wellness Living and Learning Community. The total population of these students is around 45. While 47% of our sample size responded, all 45 students would have had to respond in order for our research to have reached a truly substantial and accurate level.

The Class

                My team and I developed this research in our Strategic Research Methods class incorporated in the Strategic Communications major. Successful communications strategy relies on good research. It is the glue that holds together all future communications plans. In the class, I learned theoretical and methodological concepts for conducting applied research in communications. The course explored quantitative methods such as surveys, and qualitative methods such as focus groups, marketing research methods, and public opinion polling. From this course, I developed research and critical evaluation skills used in strategic communications by media professionals and was able to apply qualitative and quantitative research methods and appropriate data collection, numerical concepts, and statistical procedures. I learned how to plan research design, use instruments, collect data, and analyze and synthesize research findings to produce written and oral reports.

Like most strategic communications classes, almost all class assignments required us to work in teams through the use of hands-on projects. In my group of 5, we each had individual leadership opportunities. In our group, my position was the Survey Design and Execution Director. I was responsible for overseeing the survey assignment logistics and was the go-to person for questions, advice, planning, etc. for the survey portion of the project.

To introduce us to survey research, our class participated in the Elon Poll. Telephone surveys offer more control and higher response rates than most mail surveys but are limited to the types of questions that can be asked. The survey I conducted had a mix of questions that were both close-ended questions (ex. “Do you approve or disapprove how Barak Obama is doing his job as president?”) and open-ended questions (ex. “What is the most important issue in the United States?”). One thing I learned from the Elon Poll is that it is very difficult to get people to stay on the phone with you for ten minutes to answer political questions. Out of about 100 telephone numbers I dialed, only about 5 respondents completed the entire survey—which is actually a better response rate than most callers.

We also researched different examples of research in the media. For this assignment, I chose to research digital video recording (DVR) and its effect on primetime television. A study I found from GfK Media shows that DVR usage represents a growing portion of TV time. I delivered an oral and written presentation for this project.

For the majority of our class, we worked on research for the Health and Human performance Department at Elon University unveiling its new minor, Wellness and Health Education. The department was hoping to generate undergraduate interest and ultimately enrollment in the minor. The survey report, in which I facilitated, serves as a review of quantitative findings from our survey. In addition to this part of the research report, our team also developed a literature review and focus group.

Modes of Inquiry

                In its most basic form, research is the process of asking questions and finding answers. Before perusing a project in any profession or position, it is smart to do some preliminary research to start you off on the right foot. For a strategic communications plan, the research portion is the Alpha and the Omega. It holds everything you do afterward together. At the beginning of a communications plan, we research and learn all we can and plan effectively. In the middle, we’re able to use our research to track, observe, and improve the plan. In the end, research allows us to look at our results and learn from it. In order to take action in a communications plan, a communications researcher must ask the right question, choose the right method of research, and interpret the findings accurately.

            We research to make great communications. In order to engage a person, we use research to educate and inform, then transform that thought into a belief then an action. This process must be sticky, memorable, heartfelt, and must create emotional consumer bonds to the message. This process allows the client to achieve successful communications and business results.

            To approach research, a communicator can generate a hypothesis and a causal relationship theory. From this, secondary research can help build insight on the problem or opportunity. Then, educated primary research can be conducted. In  order to prove or disprove the hypothesis, the communicator can use the research then act on the findings to yield business success. The point is, the communicator drives research, it does not drive the communicator. Research is meant to seek answers to questions and hypotheses.

            Next, it’s important to review what to research. In our strategic communications discipline, we research the 7 C’s: Company, Category, Consumer, Competition, Culture, Media Convergence, and Delivery Channel.

            To research the company, a communicator must understand the business model and mission, the history of the company, brand perception, and product or service characteristics. The category is the business environment, whether it's automotive, pharmaceuticals, beauty aids, apparel, mobile phones, etc. Then a communicator must look at its trends; is the category growing? Shrinking? Consist of high or low involvement? Is it seasonal? Is it an impulse or deliberate purchase? Is there an opportunity to create a new category? Researching the consumer is crucial for a good research report. A communicator has to research the consumer’s age, gender, income, household situation, life stage, personality traits, buying behaviors, self-identity, etc. Competition is also an important element to research because in order to understand what the client is up against, one must look at the market size, brand identity, public relations initiatives, ad strategy, public perceptions, and media engagement choices.

            Researching the culture shows us societal shifts and trends, the brand’s place in the world today and in the future, as well as the values and attitudes. Media convergence is how media shapes the product’s identity and people’s engagement with the brand. Researching media convergence can answer how people use media in relation to the client’s challenge or opportunity. It’ll also answer how media use and humans’ processing of it  can affect what, when, and how the client should communicate. Delivery channel asks how the product or service gets to the consumer. Is it easy to obtain? Is it received through a store, internet mail-order, or digital delivery? Does it require consumer action? Does it require exclusive, sought after, high involvement action or low involvement, low emotion commodity? How does the consumer access the brand?

            These 7 C’s are individually very important to the strategic communications research method, but also all weave into one another. The question is commonly asked, “Where does one begin and another end?” Even though the 7 C's were extremely important in our team's secondary research steps before the survey, we also applied this concept to develop the survey and survey report. For example, we studied our consumer and target audience through primary research and made sure to send our survey to only our target audience to avoid error. We had to understand elements such as the minor category, the department's current media convergence, and through which delivery channel information of a minor gets to the student/consumer. 

            Along with the 7 C’s it’s also important to review primary research methods of strategic communications. As seen in the survey report, communicators often conduct quantitative research like a survey, whether it’s online, over the phone or through the mail. Each has pros and cons and the method of quantitative research depends very much on the target audience. Qualitative research can also be done through focus groups and in-depth interviews. To determine what method to use depends highly on the mission of the communications plan.

Work Criticism

            Our team worked on this survey research report for weeks and I am very proud of it. We deeply analyzed our findings and even included graphs and crosstabs to illustrate our findings. Cosmetically, we clearly organized and labeled our report so it’s easy for our client to find elements quickly. We also openly displayed the shortcomings of our research. The client emailed our team after reviewing our survey report and was extremely impressed with our thoughtfulness and completeness of our research.