Editor's note: Gina Pomponi is president and COO of marketing and advertising agency Bluewater.

No one can deny the importance of research as a valuable marketing tool. Every smart marketer starts by utilizing research to evaluate everything from the media marketplace, the category, competitors’ media activity and much more. It’s an absolute necessity for any smart marketer to use as part of their planning process, rather than just haphazardly throwing things against the wall to see what sticks. But beware that it can also be a pitfall and lead even the savviest person down a rabbit hole if it is not used at the right time and for the right reasons. So, let’s dive deeper into the “when,” “what” and “why” research is most effective. 

For direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketers there are three primary stages when research should be leveraged to be most successful: planning, testing and optimization. Whether or not you start your process with secondary research (data compiled from an outside or third-party source such as MRI, Nielsen, etc.) or primary research (such as internal data, focus groups, etc.), the types of research used at each stage will vary depending on the goals of the strategy and the desired outcomes. 

During the planning stage, it’s critical for DTC marketers to conduct research that provides an expert understanding of the brand’s historical campaign and sales data, the product, competitors, the industry situation and, of course, the audience opportunity. When it comes to understanding the customer, many marketers will default to primary research only, doing focus groups, surveys and social listening. Although a common mistake, it’s a big one, and an unnecessary use of marketing dollars at this point. Those of us who have been in the industry for years understand that what people say in a focus group or on a survey and what they actually do in real life can be conflicting. Why? Because of ...