Read these two statements and tell me which one you trust more:

1. If you drink coffee, you will live longer.

2. A study of more than 400,000 people, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, says drinking coffee reduces mortality rates.

As an avid coffee drinker and self-professed java snob, I have often used the first sentence with family and friends on more than a few occasions. But it wasn't until last month, when I referenced an article about the aforementioned study, that my argument was no longer met with laughter. The fact that I could now reference an outside, presumably objective, study published in an esteemed journal not only silenced my critics, but actually spurred them to do some further investigating of their own. Research in industries like pharmaceuticals, retail, credit cards and insurance, is woven into the fabric of functions like product development and marketing. But in other areas of financial services, research isn't always so well established. For some clients, a budget for research simply doesn't exist, and research projects are only approved as part of a larger product development effort. Other clients may have defined research budgets, but in some cases the owner of that budget or function has limited interaction with marketing.

Before we go further, let me clarify the focus of "research" for the purposes of this column. For most M&A pros, the first things they think about are analyst reports, valuation models and research on specific industries. While all of that is valuable stuff, the type of research I'm focusing on here is derived from polling a specific audience, with the ultimate goal of leveraging that research to help inform and influence product development and marketing. The spectrum of that research is wide, ranging from quick-hit surveys of mass audiences-think The Family Feud's top 100 people surveyed-to in-depth interviews with a handpicked group of experts. Almost every marketer has done the first type of survey, through tools like Zoomerang. Sometimes the results can provide a quick temperature check before delving into deeper product discussions.

The downside to those quick surveys, however, is that they are often put together by a marketer who isn't trained in proper questioning techniques. By asking the question in a certain way, the party conducting the survey may inadvertently push the results in a certain direction. Also, with this approach, the answers it produces are gut reactions, while the buying process for the product in question may be more lengthy and deliberate.

Conversely, by partnering with a company like SourceMedia, which is armed with an entire research team and led by a veteran research executive, you gain two important advantages: 1. Based on our expertise in markets like M&A, banking, insurance, etc., we can help you craft the right questions while employing best practices around conducting research. 2. As publishers of relevant, market-specific content, we already have a relationship with decision-makers in your industry. Thus, when they see a survey or a request for an in-depth phone interview coming from a trusted brand, they are much more likely to respond.

In today's fast-moving financial services world, where economic conditions feel perpetually tenuous, most of us can't afford to spend the time or money developing the wrong product or solution. When done right, conducting research within your industry not only steers your product development in the right direction, but it has the potential to produce objective, tangible information that you can use to promote your firm and services. And our research shows that's a worthwhile effort.

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