Recently, we've been getting a lot of feedback from clients about how their research partners are not doing a good job of "telling a story" in the reports they produce --- which ultimately creates more work for them as in-house researchers and lessens the impact of the research itself. Based on discussions with them, I think the challenge is broader than that as the complaints typically fall into one of the following categories (see if some of these are familiar to you):
Here are a few techniques we regularly employ with our clients to help overcome these challenges:
Spend sufficient time with the research sponsor to truly understand their objectives for the research. Sounds simple enough, but this is a step that is often done too quickly or not at all. This results in a surface understanding of the business objectives behind the research; no real understanding of the sponsor's "hot buttons", or how key decisions are made in their particular business/function – all of which are required to develop a high-impact report that drives actions. Researchers should make the time (even insist on it) to ask the study sponsor the following types of questions:
Deep discussions around these questions provide researchers with critical information in which to develop a high-impact analysis and reporting plan. (Importantly, they will also improve the research design itself as well as increase the credibility of the research team exponentially – both of which improves the chances the research will actually impact key business decisions.)
Develop an analysis plan before any report writing starts. Fundamentally, an analysis plan charts a course for how research ‘data' (whether qualitative and/or quantitative) will be analyzed and reported. Rather than waiting for data collection to be completed, an analysis plan is done beforehand to give researchers time to think through key views of the data, specific types of analytics they will use (whether advanced or more basic), how the report will flow, and what questions tie to key business questions the research is designed to answer. Often times an initial analysis plan is developed during the data collection period and then reviewed and fine-tuned before any report writing commences. The advantage of a well-thought out analysis plan is it gives researchers more time to think through the key objectives of the research and how they will be addressed in the report before the inevitable rush to get a report out once data collection is complete. This results in more thinking time with the data and consideration for how the results can best be reported and positioned to impact key business decisions.
Tell a story with the data. Stories have several distinct advantage versus mountains of data that are too often common in the traditional research report. Stories:
Ultimately, research needs to inform key decisions and inspire actions – storytelling can help achieve both of these objectives.
Build in additional analysis and reporting time into your project plan, if possible. Easier said than done, I know! Depending on the study, we often ask our clients for 2 1/2 to 3 weeks of reporting time if they can spare it. We deliver what we consider to be "the data" report at the end of week two and "the story" at the end of week three. We also build in working sessions with our clients during this period to review early results and engage them in a dialogue about what the data is saying. Sometimes it's not possible, nor necessary, but for 'critical' studies this extra time allows us and the in-house research team to digest the data, mull over the key implications, then develop a (more concise) deck that presents the results as a compelling story – one that will be more readily understood by a senior manager audience as well as more directive around recommendations and next steps. "Time is money" as they say, but if a few extra days ultimately results in research that makes a bigger impact on business performance, then it's well worth it.
As with any discipline, the value of market research will continually be assessed to determine its value to the business. Regardless of the research design or how well data is collected, ultimately the formulation of research results and recommendations (and the decisions/actions they foster to improve performance) is the final "measuring stick" of a study's value. Through our own experiences at KS&R, we have seen the approaches outlined above work exceptionally well with within our clients` organizations. We hope they do for you as well!