There is nothing more embarrassing for a researcher than to hear a client say "...this doesn't really address the business questions that we set out to answer." This is more common an occurrence in research reporting than most of us would care to admit. But unfortunately, much report writing these days falls short of expectations for those on the client side. This is likely due to more emphasis on methodology or analytic technique at the expense of clear graphics, creative story-telling and actionable direction.
What often happens during the report-writing process is that market researchers have their direct research client in mind. They neglect the fact that their direct contact must present these findings to the ultimate stakeholder in the process -- someone in senior management or the head of marketing who does not function in the research realm.
We need to take conscious steps to break out of our little bubble to avoid some of the lingo that is prevalent in research circles. You know what I mean if you've ever found yourself presenting your findings to marketing folks. While peppering them with terms such as "mean," "monadic," "DK/NS," "latent class," and the like, you suddenly notice the deer-in-the-headlights reaction. Worse yet, your audience's eyes glaze over completely. These terms are foreign to many marketers and, frankly, most of them couldn't care less about such things. They simply want a viable solution to the particular business need they set out to address.
So, when writing a research report for my clients it helps me to keep a few things in mind....
Speak to Marketers in Their Language
Focus on what marketers care most about -- getting customers, keeping customers, and increasing their share of the customer's wallet. So tell them what is meaningful to them....
- How to position their brand
- How best to price it
- Who their best prospects are and how to reach them
- What message should they be communicating
- Who are their most loyal and valuable customers
- How do they keep them loyal to their service or brand
Net, net -- put some Marketing-Speak into your report, and leave out the Research-speak.
Tell a good story
A good report tells a good story. So, how do you tell a compelling story? Start by getting organized!
- Develop an analytic plan that focuses on business issues and objectives -- the questions that need to be answered.
- Outline how the questions will be.
- Once the data is in, all team members should know how the data relates to those question, and they can craft the best story together.
Remember, every page in the report should contribute to the story! If something doesn't contour well with your story, stick it in the Appendix. How many hundred-page reports have you been subjected to where the charts are all in the same order as the questionnaire? Where is the story?
It's also important to stick closely to your analytic plan when crafting your story. The analytic plan is what helps to keep everyone focused on why the research was conducted in the first place.
Insightful Headlines and Bullets
What I also find helpful in getting my arms around the story is to write effective bullets and headlines for the data presented. Too many people think an insight is reiterating the numbers that are in the charts. Remember, anyone can read the numbers on a chart - our job, as researchers, is to pull the deeper insights from seemingly obvious data.
Be Creative and Have a Llittle Fun
Creativity also comes into play! Package the story in a creative way. No one wants to see rows and rows of data. Make the report visually appealing so you don't intimidate those who are going to be using the findings to help drive strategy. Avoid too much text and too many numbers.
And, don't be afraid to insert some humor here and there. It reminds your clients that you are human and helps to lighten the tone and keep things relaxed.
Get to the Heart of It
And finally, probably the hardest part of the report process for any researcher is to get straight to the heart of it... what is the story - conclusions, implications, and recommendations. Go to the next step to tell them what the data MEANS, and what they might consider doing to maximize their investment.
And there is nothing sweeter to a market researcher's ears than to hear a client voice saying, "Thanks, this really addresses the business questions that we set out to answer!"