It’s been said that a successful research project prompts as many questions as it answers. That happens when research findings generate insights that are relevant and actionable on more than one level and in more than one context. Stakeholders engage deeply with the information, learning more about their target issues, categories, customers, prospects, competitive challenges; and follow-up questions emerge.
Everything depends on solid design and execution, of course. But regardless of how well the project has been implemented, the perceived (and, to an extent, actual) value of the research can be made or broken when insights are shared with internal stakeholders.
On large or complex projects, especially, wrapping up the analysis and preparing the report is an exciting time. The research team can’t wait to share all that they learned. As in, all that they learned. After living and breathing the data, how it all fits together and why it matters has become second nature. It’s critical to remember, however, that the people waiting for results have not been “in the room” the whole time and they may not want to be now. Don’t assume they want answers to the questions they asked because often, they don’t. They are most interested in the insights generated by those answers because the insights will guide their business decisions.
At the same time, it’s not over once you’ve reported results. Your research team’s active participation winds down, but it’s the beginning of the useful life of the findings. Keep that in mind when crafting reports and presentations, to help you provide what your stakeholders need that day and going forward.
Below are a few mistakes that are easy to make when sharing market research insights, and tips on how to avoid them and maximize the immediate and long-term value of every research project.
Don’t Assume Your Audience Is Narrower Than It Is
Obviously, you know your audience: it’s the stakeholder who commissioned the research. But is that all? Who else might be invited to attend the presentation or read the report? Which business units might have a tangential or direct stake in the findings? A thorough brief at the front end of the project will help identify the immediate and broader contexts of the topics addressed in the research, along with these additional stakeholders. If you need to, touch base with the stakeholder who commissioned the research to confirm.
Your primary stakeholder is your primary audience, of course, but if others are included, it’s for a reason. Think about how their respective interests and priorities overlap and diverge and create a balance in your presentation (whether written, in person, or both). You want to engage everyone in the findings and subsequent discussion and, ideally, encourage them to remain engaged and gain as much value from the research as possible.
Stay focused on key points and avoid burying the audience in data points (more on that later). At the same time, be clear about how much and what type of information was captured and is available for “drill-down” later. It’s typically not feasible or advisable to include every detail in an initial presentation or report, and it’s important to communicate what additional data are available.
Depending on how many different stakeholders there are and how divergent their interests are, consider offering customized reports or presentations that focus on various aspects of the research findings. That can afford opportunities for more granular treatment of specific topics without bogging everyone down in material that is less relevant to them.
Don’t Leave Out the Story
Your main job is to tell a story. Remember, market research is a means to an end. When it’s time to share insights and information, go back to the beginning of the project for your cues about how to roll it out.
First, set the stage. Why was the research undertaken, and how will the results be used? This doesn’t need to take long but it is critically important to orient the audience and set their expectations. It is also a great opportunity to remind everyone of any relevant contexts beyond the immediate discussion. For instance, the main event may be consumer usage of green products in a specific category, but maybe the survey also picked up great information about awareness or purchase behavior in additional categories.
Then, tell the story in a way that makes sense from the perspective of the research objectives. As you proceed, lay out the links between data points and insights. When you reach the end, your discussion of implications will make sense and the entire process will be relatively streamlined.
Don’t Bury the Lede
There are two different internal logics in the content of a research project: the client’s story and the respondents’ story. The research brief is usually written using the logic of the client’s story. The sequence of topics and questions is dictated by how the client organizes their knowledge and the gaps in that knowledge.
To create a moderator’s guide or questionnaire, you take the brief and deconstruct it. Then, you build research instruments using the logic of the respondents’ story. The sequence of questions and stimuli is guided by how respondents think about the subject matter–and how you want to lead them through it.
Once the data are tabulated and analyzed, you restore the original logic of the story and plug in the patterns and insights that emerged. This should guide the sequence when you share those insights because it is how they are most meaningful to your internal stakeholders.
Don’t Let the Visual Tail Wag the Dog
Visuals, especially charts and graphs of numeric data, are also a means to an end. Use them to illustrate and punctuate what you are saying and don’t let them become the main event. It is easy to go overboard because we are all conditioned to a world of memes and tweets. And a robust research project might yield enough data for hundreds of rich, informative graphs.
Err on the side of restraint. Even the most engaged audience will tire under a barrage of data graphs, no matter how beautifully designed and executed. Remember that you are telling a story, not uploading a data file. Unless the client specifically requests it, the most granular data does not need to be visualized. Keep the focus on the headlines with, as appropriate, a few details to illustrate the basis for conclusions.
Often, the content warrants more graphs than the presentation can accommodate. This is true particularly when the audience for the findings is diverse, with varying levels of interest in details about different topics. Then, it is useful to go ahead and create more detailed graphs and keep them in reserve. They can be brought into a presentation to answer follow-up questions or made available later.
One Final Mistake: Failing to Make Your Research Easily Accessible
As we mentioned earlier, the life of your research findings doesn’t end once you finish presenting them, and one of the biggest mistakes you could make is not giving your internal stakeholders easy access to your findings after the fact. Your stakeholders don’t want to jump through hoops to find the research they need to make decisions, and if they can’t easily find what they’re looking for on demand, they’re less likely to leverage that research.
If your organization uses a knowledge engagement platform, you can use a modular approach to make insights available on demand. Consider publishing not just the main report, which tells the story the primary stakeholders need most immediately, but also deeper data and ancillary material that will be useful to decision-makers across your organization. Your stakeholders can then visit the platform, search for relevant research by keywords, or drill down using categories and filters. By making it as simple as possible for your stakeholders to access your insights, you’ll be able to extend the life of your insights and encourage stakeholders to support their decisions with data.