The author discusses how more effective storytelling and reporting can improve the value of research in organizations.
I recently read Andy Howden of Hampshire, U.K., research company Insight Inside’s article, “That elusive thing called 'insight,’” for Research Live, which looks at why insight sometimes fails to gain traction in organizations. Insight Inside asked 30 heads of insight and marketing directors to explore how effectively insight is working in their organization and how it could work better.
One particular point struck me: "It was rare to find a business which actually devoted meaningful budget to communicating insights rather than just spending money on trying to uncover them."
Now, what does this have to do with marketing for researchers? The answer is everything! In marketing terms, insight is your product and for insight to get attention and impact, it needs to be communicated creatively, powerfully and professionally. This is something many researchers (both agency- and client-side) struggle with. Research is being left behind in the scramble to present data in exciting and motivating ways.
THE WORLD HAS CHANGED
While researchers have been talking about how they need to improve their communications – and not making much progress – the world has changed immeasurably. We are all living in a vastly more visual world than 10, or even five, years ago. The Internet has given us access to instant visual and mental gratification. There are hundreds of image sites, videos, presentations and infographics running wild in the digital world. The result is that more and more consultants, agencies and journalists are communicating insight in dynamic ways; and research has less and less of a toehold on corporate decision-making.
After many years working in branding and communication, I started working in the research industry about 12 years ago. I found that the researchers I met were aware that they had a problem with how they communicated yet most had not taken the first step to creating client materials that were motivating or impactful. Since then, I have spent a great deal of my time using my knowledge of communication and design to work with researchers to improve the quality of what they deliver to clients. Although I have seen some great new developments, overall I have been frustrated that researchers are not keeping up with the rapidly-changing world. We need to find new approaches to improve our outputs – and we need to find them fast.
FALL FAR SHORT
There is no doubt that researchers strive to communicate well. They want to create presentations and materials that will impress clients and help ensure their work is used to drive decisions. They are all too aware of the shortcomings of long, dull PowerPoint presentations and reports that gather dust on shelves. But many clients and PR, design or ad agencies that get the results of the industry’s best efforts say presentations and materials produced by researchers still fall far short of the mark.
Jonathan Todd, head of analytics at advertising agency Wunderman, says, “A research presentation always stands out. They contain a lot of information – all structured in the same way. Slide after slide of too much data. They don’t get to the point quickly enough.”
Aziz Cami, founder of design agency The Partners and now creative consultant to Kantar, reiterates this point, “Successful research communications are ones that create action. We have to provide materials that are motivating solutions to a business issue. Unless we make our outputs vivid, exciting and actionable, it’s just data.”
BRINGING STORIES TO LIFE
We can all become great communicators but we need to work hard at creating stories and bringing them to life. From our very first experience of fairytales, stories are archetypes that allow us to make sense of our world. It’s my view that without the basic skills of storytelling, researchers are not able to create great communication. And I think we need to think about the research story in the way a communicator would, not a researcher. The story is not the output or result of a research project. It is the communication of the output and as such should be treated as a project in itself.
So please, researchers, put your money where your mouth is and team up with great communicators to ensure your insights are heard, used and valued!