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Two kinds of research

Advancement Associates, Inc. (AAI) believes in the helpfulness of research and relies on research results to shape its counsel. Associate Michael Wiese, professor of marketing at Anderson (IN) University and widely known for his expertise in research, typically leads AAI’s research projects.

AAI carries out two kinds of research, each of them useful in particular circumstances. One type is called qualitative research, the other quantitative (or scientific) research.

Qualitative research comes in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Qualitative methods to answer research questions include interviews, open-ended response analysis, focus groups and observation research.

Many clients ask questions such as: Does our constituency still believe in us? Do we maintain good relationships with them? Do our constituents approve the plans that we have made? Will they support the plans with interest, prayers, and funds?

Such questions are typically answered through the use of feasibility studies, some of which are qualitative in design, other are scientific. In the qualitative studies, AAI consultants prepare a questionnaire schedule, then conduct one-hour in-depth interviews with crucial stakeholders. Skills in asking questions, following up replies with more questions, giving engaged listening, and then compiling results can be invaluable for organizational planning.

AAI has done qualitative feasibility studies having to do with capital campaigns, marketing audits, program designs, communication effectiveness and organizational image.

Scientific research calls for a rigor that permits analysis to a designated degree of reliability and validity. The design of questions, the selection of a random sample that is large enough to represent the whole, the control of questionnaire completion, the ability to make statistical inferences all contribute to the authority of scientific research. In many cases, scientific research costs more.

The problem calling for research may need a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods to most fully answer questions.

Good counsel may, at times, arise from the years of experience of consultants. Sometimes it comes from “a gut feeling.” But in many circumstances, the right word of counsel is based upon careful qualitative or quantitative investigation.

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Mennonite Manor case study

Over the last few years a number of our clients have engaged in market research. Among them are schools working to improve their image and/or increase their enrollment; retirement centers considering a new approach to long-term care; and a church conference wanting to better support its pastors. In each case, these organizations were motivated by a genuine desire to provide their clients with service that was more accessible, more comprehensive and more relevant. All concluded that conducting market research would be an important step to this end.

In 2008 AAI had the opportunity to conduct substantial qualitative market research for Mennonite Manor, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in South Hutchinson, KS. (As opposed to quantitative research, which deals with random samples, percentages, figures and probabilities, qualitative research uses such tools as interviews, open-ended response analysis, focus groups and observation research; for more information, see “Two kinds of research.”)

After a difficult period in its history Mennonite Manor was looking to regain the positive reputation it had enjoyed for years in the greater Hutchinson community. The Manor was also considering an innovative approach to long-term care. Competition in the local service area is intense and a comprehensive marketing strategy was needed.

Mennonite Manor CEO Lowell Peachey explains it this way: “My experience is that most organizations promote their superior customer service as a distinguishing feature. Obviously not everyone can be superior – if all are superior all are average.”

AAI conducted 40 in-depth interviews to unearth the deep sentiments related to life transitions that lead older persons and their families to consider a continuing care living arrangement. Associate Michael Wiese prepared the interview instrument, designing it around five specific objectives:

1. To define a clear strategic vision, consistent with its mission and values, which would differentiate Mennonite Manor from other retirement communities in its service area.

2. To understand the living experience that makes a retirement community preferable and desirable.

3. To gain insights that would further align the Mennonite Manor experience with the organization’s strategic vision.

4. To determine the messages for creating a unique integrated marketing communication approach that would effectively brand Mennonite Manor.

5. To discover how constituency members view Mennonite Manor relative to other senior living centers in the area.

The three-person research group, which also included Principal Becky Drumm and Associate Dan Hess, met for a day of training. It became clear during this process that the nature of the interviews would require a high level of adaptability and together, the three revised the instrument accordingly.

Becky and Dan each conducted 20 interviews with a cross-section of participants representing five constituency groups. These conversations allowed the researchers to independently draw conclusions about what they heard. The nature of the interviews often evoked heart-felt conversations through which respondents discovered and expressed inner emotions related to their childhood homes, describing their current homes and anticipating their future homes. The conversations also allowed people to share their perceptions of the various senior living facilities available in the area, including Mennonite Manor.

Sessions were recorded, allowing Mike to replay the conversations and record notes for each interview. After completing an analysis of each interview, Becky and Dan also independently provided Mike with an analysis of overall findings, reflecting the interviews each conducted. Mike then read the summaries for each conversation and conducted a “compare and contrast” review of the two interviewers’ reports.

These findings have led to important insights that can effectively guide strategy for Mennonite Manor. “What we’re trying to do in this process,” says Peachey, “is determine the core differences between the Manor and competitor organizations and actually build our programs and services around these distinguishing hallmarks. We are also developing internal standards that can be measured in terms of behaviors and using these standards to create a unique experience that will attract both residents and staff to our community.”

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Ingredients of a successful strategic visioning retreat

What follows is an interview Associate Dan Hess (JDH) conducted with former AAI Principal Jerry Kennell following a visioning retreat held at Philadelphia Mennonite High School (PMHS).

JDH: Let’s begin at the beginning. What is strategic visioning, Jerry?

Kennell: Farmers don’t plow anymore, but when they did, they made straight furrows by picking a fence post or some other fixed mark on the horizon and locking their sight directly on this mark. Strategic visioning is a process to name the fence posts on the horizon for an organization, the key landmarks that will focus all organizational efforts to accomplish mission over a substantial stretch of time. Good planning is rooted firmly in the right strategic vision. Continue reading Ingredients of a successful strategic visioning retreat