Research, Research, Research!

The centrality of research in designing and implementing a social marketing or public communications campaign cannot be overstated. Data gathered from a variety of research activities often forms the basis for critical campaign decisions and strategies. In fact, making decisions without conducting some form of research first is actually quite foolish. For example, you work for an arts organization that wants to increase participation in the arts. When creating a campaign, you’ll likely want to address and resolve any barriers to participation. Say you assume that the main barrier is money, so you market participation as affordable and work to lower prices of tickets, classes, or entrance fees. If the actual barrier is something entirely different, such as time or social factors, you probably just wasted a good portion of resources on an ineffective or irrelevant campaign.

As mentioned above, research comes in numerous forms and is conducted for a variety of purposes. Ideally, research also comprises an ongoing process that takes place before, during, and after a campaign. Marketing scholars Lee and Kotler provide a useful breakdown of the various categories and characterizations of research, which is summarized in the table below.



Type of Research

Objective Exploratory, descriptive, casual
Planning Process Formative, pretest, monitoring, evaluation
Source of Information Secondary, primary
Approaches to Collecting (primary data) Informant interviews, focus groups, surveys, experimental, observational, ethnographic
Rigor Qualitative, quantitative


The development of a research plan and the selection of specific methods/techniques will vary and depends on the particular needs, objectives, etc. of a given campaign. Some important questions that one should address when determining a plan for research activities are:

  • What is the purpose of the research?
    • What questions need answering?
    • What decisions need to be made?
    • How can research data help inform these decisions?
  • Who is the audience?
    • To whom will the research be presented?

Answering these questions will help determine the most appropriate methods/techniques and ensure that the research is effective and worthwhile.

Primary vs. Secondary

The distinction between primary research and secondary research is an important one. Primary research is the collection of information for the specific campaign or purpose at hand. Secondary research, meanwhile, involves looking at information that already exists or was collected at an earlier time, usually for a different campaign or purpose. It is important to note, however, that secondary data can be equally valuable and useful for decision-making and the development of campaign strategies.

Many people shy away from extensive research because they see it as too expensive. Indeed, conducting primary research such as administering a survey can be costly. However, not all research requires the collection of primary data. Recognizing and utilizing available secondary sources is crucial to conducting extensive research while minimizing overall costs.

Resources for Research in the Arts

Below is a selected list of resources for research specific to the arts and arts organizations.

  • National Archive of Data on Arts and Culture – Secondary research galore! A comprehensive website that centralizes over 300 datasets specific to research in the arts and culture. Access is free, equitable, and open to the public. Users can easily search and navigate the entire database using a variety of parameters.
  • NEA Arts Research Quadrants – A collection of reports published by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) divided into four categories: 1) Artists in the Workforce 2) Arts Participation 3) Arts & the Economy 4) Arts & Etc.
  • Americans for the Arts Research Hub – A large collection of searchable reports, studies, journal articles, etc.
  • TRG Arts – A consulting firm that specializes in data-driven services for arts organizations. Specializes in research (primary and secondary) specifically related to targeted marketing. TGR Arts also maintains an informative blog relating to data-driven insights.