The good news is that more and more companies are deploying knowledge management platforms and self-service research libraries, making it easier than ever for internal stakeholders to access and use market research and customer insights on their own. Enabling everyone across the organization to use insights in their decision-making, and to do it as a matter of course, is the ideal model of a data-driven enterprise.
This universally positive development nevertheless has many research teams asking some important questions about what it means for their stakeholders to self-serve. Along with serving as the point of access for insights and associated knowledge, researchers have historically provided important consultative services, ensuring optimal value was gained from every market research investment.
Now, many researchers are wondering whether their stakeholders are equipped to get the most value out of their insights, working on their own. Can the research team support the self-service, proactive model without harking back to the old days where market research team members functioned as knowledge gatekeepers? How do you facilitate without intervening?
Design Deliverables With Ongoing Use In Mind
Once upon a time, a research project culminated in a comprehensive report of findings, often accompanied by a formal presentation. The research team typically tailored the deliverables to the specific needs and priorities of the stakeholders who commissioned the project. Deliverables were static and anyone who did not attend the presentation might find themselves doing a bit of excavation to find specific insights. When stakeholders had a follow-up question or needed more details about a finding, they turned back to the research team.
The advent of digitization and centralized knowledge curation have driven evolution in how findings reports look and feel, as well as how they are distributed and shared. We might think of those adaptations as representing style, and it is important. But equally important is substance: making sure the research team’s full consultative value is incorporated into deliverables, so it is accessible to all users as they tap into insights on an ongoing basis.
Organize, Highlight, and Headline
Knowing that more and more frequently, the insights team’s output will be used by “unchaperoned” stakeholders calls for a new guiding principle: design each deliverable as a resource to be used more than once, by more than the original audience, without requiring an interpreter or intermediary from the research team.
Think carefully about how the information will be used by stakeholder teams and create an organizational structure that will make sense to them. Put key takeaways and recommended actions front and center, clearly linked to goals and objectives.
Organize supporting data in a hierarchy from broad to specific, so users can see what is available and drill down only as far as they need to. Bullet points can be easier to scan and digest than a wall of text, but a wall of bullet points can be worse. Short paragraphs and liberal but consistent use of subheadings and sub-sub-headings can work better not only for reading but for indexing and cross-linking.
Call out key points in accompanying posts and announcements, which makes it easy for people to locate what they are looking for and quickly see what else is available.
Data, Schmata–Tell Us a Story
Obviously, data is the point of research. Analyzing data reveals the patterns and relationships that spark the insights that drive the decisions in a successfully data-driven enterprise. But data can be dry and challenging to take in and retain. In any case, what is important is what the data mean. What do humans typically find most meaningful and, therefore, easiest to relate to and remember and internalize? Stories and characters.
The value of storytelling as a skill for insights teams is not news, and many researchers have been incorporating it into their findings presentations for some time. But is it embedded permanently in the deliverables, or just used informally to make the findings presentation more interesting? Making it integral to the deliverables ensures all stakeholders who tap the resource will get the full value. Instead of wrapping a bit of story around the data, let the story be the headline. Some teams are going so far as to use sculpture, animations, and other visual arts creations as deliverables.
Put Research 101 at Everyone’s Fingertips
So, the research team no longer serves as insights gatekeepers, but the rest of the organization still needs guidance and sometimes enforcement around best practices in research and customer analytics. How can that work?
The self-service, centralized knowledge model is perfectly suited to address this challenge by putting educational resources at everybody’s fingertips. If we learned anything over the past 18 months, it is how closely and effectively we can collaborate using remote and asynchronous tools. Any insights team can bring its full value to bear for everyone in the organization by creating high-quality content that provides the coaching and handholding that used to be embedded in the gatekeeping role.
Insights teams can share content that addresses the fundamentals of research methodology, the best applications for various project goals, new tools and techniques, and advantages and limitations associated with various methods. These resources should be tailored to the audience, and ideally, stakeholders should be empowered to comment and ask questions within the self-serve research library so that the insights team understands where there may be knowledge gaps and needs for additional context and clarification.
Stakeholders will seek and accept varying amounts of research expertise, which is and has always been fine. The key is to make it available in logically organized, easily consumed portions so they can find it and use it as needed.
We’ve outlined two strategies for adapting to increased digitization and centralization of knowledge: giving research findings greater shelf life and broader accessibility and providing stakeholders with knowledge about research fundamentals they can tap as needed. To get the most out of either or both, consider making a knowledge management platform part of your infrastructure. It makes everything searchable and offers a venue for stakeholders to interact through Q&A and other conversations.
Getting stakeholders more engaged with research and allowing them to self-serve insights from a knowledge management platform ultimately leads to more data-driven decision-making, creating a competitive advantage and helping to grow the business faster.