Increasing impact: making research more effective

In a recent Insightflow online panel, three industry experts looked at ‘Bridging the Insight-Adoption gap’. This concept – coined by panellist Gideon Barker – reflects the fact that market research often does not have the desired impact for the commissioning clients. Obviously it is important for researchers to be aware of the Insight-Adoption Gap and to have  the tools to help mitigate its effects.

The panel identified several potential causes of the problem:

  • Researchers who do not fully understand the objectives and context of the client
  • Clients who are not fully bought into – or understand – the research process and why specific methodologies have been chosen
  • An unhelpful distance between the client and the research team resulting in a lack of connection between the client and the ongoing process
  • Too much focus on research projects rather than research relationships
  • A failure to communicate the findings in ‘client language’ and a lack of sensitivity to the client’s culture and context
  • A reluctance to make sure the research findings are properly socialised in the client organisation

Understanding the objective

The success of your research project depends on understanding. Not only of the client’s business itself, but also its sector, the personalities involved in each department who may be required to act upon any insights and the internal politics at play within the client organisation. These things should be addressed by market researchers before anyone even thinks about data. 

Establishing the relationship and exactly why the client wants the research project done are key. Are they simply doing it because others in the industry have? Are they seeking confirmation of something? Is this part of an anticipated capital investment? All will have a significant impact on how your insights are shaped and how they may be received and actioned. 

Gideon Barker, Insight Director of Customer IQ, believes that practitioners should consider spending more set up time before a project in order to better understand the client’s sector and business:

“Understanding the commercial aspects of your clients’ business is so important. I’ve got a shopping list of all the things that can be done and a lot of them would bridge not just research but researchers and clients.”

Being armed with a greater knowledge of your client’s business allows you to focus on their aims. Amanda Wigginton, former Global Strategy Director at Time Inc., has spent years working with both internal and external teams:

“I think of myself as a business leader first, rather than an insight specialist. And that’s a really important distinction. You have to be focused commercially on what that business needs.”

Obviously, an outside agency or practitioner does not have that immediate client knowledge, so agencies have to work harder to make sure the alignment between the research project’s stated aims and ultimate client objectives are met, as Zoe Kelleher of Inviqa recognised:

“The aim is for us to get to a point where the client communicates with us, and is very clear what they want out of the research, but also what their wider business objectives are. Link those two and the insights can all map back to that. If you don’t do that, or you don’t have a clear understanding of what the underlying business goals and challenges are, the research is never going to go anywhere.”

Getting the client onside

Often, practitioners work closely with in-house insight teams and for companies who understand the process. But where this isn’t the case, research methodology can hold an air of mystery and, to an extent, industry jargon doesn’t help. Gideon Barker sees the importance of explaining the process to clients in order to achieve the best outcome. 

“I tend to match up with organisations that often haven’t done research before. So there’s a lot of hand holding and guiding them through the process, because we make it so complicated. Simplifying it is very important for me, because it lays out potential problems and difficulties. If you can communicate well and inform them as to why things happen in this order, or why you’re recommending things happen in that order, it mitigates things going wrong down the line.”

Too frequently, market research is conducted behind the scenes, with client staff not necessarily aware or involved in the process. Ultimately, it’s wise to draw them in as allies, as they may be directly affected by your findings. 

“It’s understanding the client’s expectations and how research fits into their organisation, so that we can then plan how we work with them to make an impact. That can be anything from bringing people on the journey with us, making sure that they come and watch the research, to trying to make sure the CEO sits in for a couple of hours watching customer interviews, and actually sees somebody tearing their hair out trying to use the website or product.” – Zoe Kelleher.

Building a trusted relationship

For many practitioners, the final report or presentation marks the end of the client journey. Job done, insights delivered, let’s move on to the next client. It sounds fine, but in reality, this approach can be massively counterproductive for not only the client but also any future relationship. Six months from now, has the client acted upon your insights? Have you asked? 

There’s a growing feeling among some practitioners that the most important part of any market research project is not given enough time and weight, and that more time should be spent with clients to not only fully explain insights, but also to collaborate while the insights are considered by the client.

There isn’t really an incentive for the researchers to hang around and do that extra bit. When they’ve delivered their research, there isn’t that additional job to transform that research finding, or insight, into a set of actions. I think I think there is a bigger opportunity there. 

The more time that a supplier can help their client to work out those actions and collaborate on that, the better the relationship is going to be, and the more likely that client is going to come back to you. – Gideon.

Spending that additional time with the client is unappealing to some in MR, simply because it might not be costed in to the project itself and, to an extent, it goes against the way projects have been delivered in the past. Perhaps it’s time that was re-evaluated.

“Research can be very expensive, and it can be the piece of the project that tends to be played down or squeezed a bit. But where you need the most time is to actually draw the insights and do the collaborative part with the client. That’s the bit that gets squeezed ‘Oh, a half day workshop?’ Well, no, we need a lot more than that to draw out those insights and turn that into a roadmap, an Action List for the client.” – Zoe Kelleher.

Listening to professional researchers with decades of experience behind them is always interesting, particularly given the upheaval the sector has seen since the beginning of the pandemic. What really struck home here was the overall agreement that a shake up in the way market research works with business is required.

A renewed focus on initial onboarding of clients and the way practitioners bring them into the process was universally acknowledged by the panel, along with placing a greater emphasis on real understanding of a client’s business, sector and actual needs. Those initial steps, combined with a much more long term attitude towards the delivery, presentation and implementation of insights could just be the things to really drive the sector in 2021 and beyond.

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