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Market Research Findings And How You Can Make Sure They're Acted On

Dec 26, 2007
Five tips to keep costly market research from gathering dust

I have a sneaking suspicion that the more a piece of market research costs, the less likely it is to actually be read.

All around the world, market research carefully generated by government bodies, universities and private companies is propping up wobbly desks, mopping up spilt coffee and gathering dust in forgotten corners.

Meanwhile killer competitive insights remain undiscovered by those that could turn them into profitable business decisions.

The problem does not so much lie with the quality of the research, nor the competence of those that commissioned it. I believe the biggest make or break factor for the usefulness of any knowledge is how effectively it can be transferred out of the researchers' brains and into the brains of those who are in a position to act on it.

I recently asked some busy, busy clients how I could better help them consume the research they had paid for. The most common answer (almost unanimously in fact) was to implant it straight into their brains!

Now, I'm not sure those direct-to-brain research implants are quite ready to hit the streets yet.

So in the meantime, here are my top tips for ensuring the insight from research gets successfully transferred to those who can actually do something based on it.

1. Put a human face on it

People trump numbers and charts every time. Finding a way to bring your numbers and analysis back to people is a sure way to get people paying attention.

One of the techniques I use for this is the development of personas. I distill key customer segmentation information and put an appropriate human face on it, based on known characteristics, phrases and behaviors.

The impact is massive, because well-crafted visitor personas are intuitively grasped by people that would otherwise struggle to get their head round research data in other forms.

When you hear businesses or staff member referring to a persona by name, you know knowledge has been transferred to where it belongs.

But a human face doesn't just mean complex persona development.

Researchers are great at stripping the human element out of the research process until nothing but hard data remains (and there are some good reasons for this). Yet for effective knowledge transfer, look at getting some of those real words and real people back in.

A real person expressing their own views (whether on video, audio or in writing) will have way more impact on an audience than pages of skilfully crafted data interpretation.

The human face is also invaluable in transferring insight to staff members with little customer contact. You should see the look on the face of a member of staff when they understand for the first time the impact of their efforts on a real person's life.

2. Apply to so what factor (or addressing what's in it for me?)

Research agencies and academics may not object to research for research's sake, but the rest of the world tends to ask "so what?" or indeed utter less polite equivalents.

So what?, Why should I care?, What's in it for me? Fail to address these objections at your peril. I've written lots about the "so what?" factor, so I won't labor it here. But in short, forget the "this is so fascinating" and skip to the "this will make you a lot of money." Ears will soon prick up.

3. Less is more

It takes way more time to write a short report than it does to write a long one. Tough, because less really is more when it comes to acting on research.

If you need different lengths, styles and formats different internal audiences, take this into account from the start. Just don't send the CEO the 100 pager and expect it to be read!

If you are commissioning research, think about being specific with your agency about how little you want to see, as well as how much. I'd love a client to challenge me to distill my research findings to a 50 word SMS message!

4. Resonance - or the subtle art of letting people hear their own words

Generally speaking, people like taking part in research. But they become jaded if they are continually asked for their input, yet they see no changes or improvements.

Resonance is the delicate art of letting research participants understand you heard them and their views mattered and is particularly useful in community and internal organization research. People recognize the echo of their own words and respect that you took them seriously. The outcome tends to be that they then take the research more seriously, improving acceptance and actionability.

5. Keep it simple

Final tip? Keep it simple. No, I'm not suggesting you dumb down the ideas, not at all.

Just that for every 5 minutes spent on being the clever old genius you undoubtedly are, you commit 55 minutes to distilling it so it can be clearly understood by others.

Think about ensuring the language, the graphs, the layout are as clear and simple as possible - and test it out. I often run complex research reports by my Mum. Seriously, she can detect fuzziness and jargon at twenty paces.

So, keep it human, aim for resonance and keep reporting short, relevant and simple. Follow these five tips when commissioning or producing research for your organisation and people will pay attention.

That way, you can ensure that your research generates profitable action, instead of generating dust.
About the Author
Vicky Brock is Co-Founder of Highland Business Research one of Scotland's leading market research agencies. She is also International Committee Co-Chair of the Web Analytics Association and a renowned international speaker and workshop leader. She co-authors the blog Tracking.Tourism.com
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