How Agile Market Research Can Help Solve a Public Relations Nightmare

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Imagine this: you’re a quick-service restaurant chain that’s been enjoying a steady surge in popularity. Out of nowhere, a negative story about how your ingredients are sourced pops up on Facebook and quickly goes viral, pervading social media outlets and even making it to the evening news. The anchorman’s story about your ingredients directly contradicts one of the restaurant’s core marketing claims. You’re officially in full-blown crisis mode, and your marketing and research departments are dismantling their schedules to tackle the key questions:

  • What are the facts—or lack thereof—being used to support this story?
  • How aware are current and prospective customers? Any reactions to the news?
  • Is the news trending? If so, where?
  • What should be done to address the issue and maintain customer loyalty?

Averting a PR Crisis with the Help of Agile Market Research

If this scenario felt a bit too realistic, it’s because it actually happened. And agile research was instrumental in resolving the restaurant’s crisis situation, because it gave the brand the ability to launch five unplanned, on-demand studies in under three weeks, reaching 3,400 consumers.

The agile approach is different than the conventional research model of “ready, aim, fire” in that it leverages an iterative approach that allows for a process of “ready, fire, aim.” In other words, consumer insights gathered from results are used to inform and guide you towards the next targeted question. It may sound unintuitive, but it allows the research to be guided by the answers, instead of aiming blindly and hoping your results end up valuable and applicable. Repeating the process until all key questions are answered ensures that you are constantly building upon your momentum, applying knowledge as it is gained.

Five Steps to Crisis Management with the Agile Method

agile public relations response

Step 1. The first iteration focuses on tracking consumers’ awareness of the issue and understanding their sentiment regarding the news.

Step 2. Informed by the findings, the second iteration focuses on asking consumers what responses to the news they would deem most appropriate.

Step 3. Using the responses gathered from the second iteration, the marketing and research teams work to fully develop concepts for potential responses, which are then tested with consumers.

Step 4. Based on the quantitative and qualitative research and feedback on the initial ideas, the teams then refine the concepts and subject them to a final testing.

Step 5. The final iteration doubles the quantitative sampling, validating the final, optimized concepts.

For the QSR, the creative response evolved significantly through the iterations with concepts that adapted to prior feedback. The eventual, optimal concept was a best-of-breed combination of the ideas developed and tested in the earlier iterations. The research revealed that the news stories would not have a lasting impact, as there was a low intent to share the story. It also showed the message should be targeted, rather than subject to a mass media broadcast campaign.

In this restaurant’s case, the impact of the crisis resulted in a temporary blip, and the agile insights gathered will contribute to the future of the brand’s marketing efforts. To learn more about what attributes and atmosphere attract QSR customers in the first place—and keep them coming back—check out the executive summary below.

Download Executive Summary