Vision Critical

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When I'm chatting with potential clients, I almost always get asked: "How do you get to the insights when you're reporting?" This is usually accompanied by a somewhat skeptical expression. Don't worry, I don't take this personally.

I know it's coming from a place of concern because, although we say we can get to the voice of the customer, the market research business has connotations of huge reports collecting dust on shelves. Believe me, if that's what we delivered to our clients, I wouldn't want to be in this line of work at all!

Here are the ten things we do to ensure we deliver relevant and easily digestible insights:

1. True Business Partners
2. Nail the Big Question
3. Know the Big Answers
4. Make a Leap
5. Walk through the Topline
6. Design is Critical
7. Tell a Story
8. State the Obvious
9. Get the Tone Right
10. Know Your Audience

1. True Business Partners
We work hard to get to know your business and the challenges you face. The first few months of a business relationship are like dating, where we establish a good foundation and get to know one another better. Then, as the relationship progresses, we develop strong trust, respect, mutual understanding, open dialogue, flexibility and the ability to compromise when necessary. This enables us to be much closer to the unique needs and challenges that you encounter. And it provides us with clarity on the right questions to ask to get the necessary answers.

2. Nail the Big Question
When we're working on a project, the first thing to understand is the Big Question. This isn't the key question we're asking the customer, but rather the question that needs to get answered internally. Sometimes this can be hard to determine, so we encourage our clients to give us direct access to their internal clients so we don't have to play broken telephone. Getting direct access means we can save a lot of time on the design too. Getting the design right in the first place and really understanding how you will use the information makes the report writing a piece of cake. I also find that, if you actually frame the Big Question as a question vs. a statement, the report writing flows so much more easily.

Here are some good examples of Big Questions and easy ways to answer:

Q. Should we launch this new product?
A1. Yes, with these minor modifications.
A2. No, this product is not viable becauseÛ_

Q. What are white space opportunities for this brand?
A1. There are two white space opportunitiesÛ_X and Y.
A2. There are presently no white space opportunities.

3. Know the Big Answers
When I'm working with people who are new to research, I usually tell them about a time where I learned the lesson of "knowing the big answer". On one occasion, I headed out to a client's office for a big presentation. I thought I was going to have about 90 minutes to talk them through the presentation and discuss implications and opportunities. When I arrived, I was told their VP only had 10 minutes, because she needed to get to another meeting. Thankfully, I had a good handle on what their big question was and I was able to give them the three big insights and implications of those insights from the project without looking at my deck. If I hadn't understood the big question and what they really needed the information for I would have been really stuck (and embarrassed!)

4. Walk through the Topline
This may seem like an obvious step, but walking through the topline isn't something that's always done in marketing research. But I find it really helpful to walk clients through the topline results to see what they find the most interesting and surprising. This helps structure the report and can provide additional background.

5. Make a Leap
One of my early mentors said something to me that stuck: "you should always write recommendations in a report - even if the client doesn't agree with you - at least it gives the starting point for discussion and debate". The report can always be adjusted if you are aware of factors we don't know about when we make an initial recommendation. But at least we got a fruitful discussion started.

6. Tell a Story
If a report is just a regurgitation of data, then we might as well have not bothered writing the report in the first place - we could have just delivered the data tables. A good report should draw the reader in, be easily digestible and have an obvious flow.
There are three different ways to frame a slide when we're telling a story. Let me share them first, and then I'll state my preference.

1. Descriptive Title. A descriptive title lets you know what the content of the slide will be. Then in the body of the slide you document the insight, back it up with data, and state an implication or opportunity.

2. Ask a Question in the Title. Ask a question in the title and then answer it in the body of the slide and state an implication or opportunity.

3. State the Insight in the Title. State the actual insight in the title and try to keep it all one line. Text on the slide is limited and there is more space for visuals. The implication or opportunity becomes the main secondary text on the slide.

My preference is for number 2 or 3 above. Asking a question in the title can draw the reader in to dig deeper into the slide, and stating the insight (or at least the finding) in the title is really succinct. I usually pick one or the other depending on how short and punchy I can get the insight, who the audience is, and how much needs to be explained.

7. State the Obvious
When the person closest to the project writes the report, it is easy to miss the obvious because they've become too close to it. Having second eyes review it to make sure nothing is missed in terms of background, questionnaire flow, or the reasons behind why we asked customers the questions in a certain way. Also, it's important to not miss out on those higher level pieces of data that may seem too obvious to state. We review on our side, but it's important to think of these points before you send the report to your internal stakeholders as well.

8. Design is Critical
I used to teach at a College, and I joked with my students that I used to give their assignments a better grade if they printed them in color and on nice paper. Although this was a joke, I was partly serious. I knew that if the students had made the effort to really think through the design and took pride enough to package it nicely, that they would also likely have good content. The same goes for delivering reports - if a report looks awful and is text heavy, the writer likely didn't take the time to really think through the story or consider the audience. A good report looks great, is easy to digest, and is heavier on visuals than text.

9. Get the Tone Right
I aim for a conversational tone, whenever possible. The punchier you can make the language, the more likely people will be to remember the content. Obviously, there are times where we need to use a more conservative tone, but regardless of audience, we try to remember that people are much more likely to remember something that's interesting to read, than something that puts them to sleep.

10. Know your Audience
Knowing the audience and how the information will be presented has a huge impact on the style of reporting we deliver.

Here are some critical questions we ask to make sure we're delivering what you need:

Are you going to present this report using a projector?

  • Implication: text light, large font, and have clearly identified insights.

Or will you sit around a table and discuss?

  • Implication: text can be heavier and font smaller.

Or will you email it to people to read on their own?

  • Implication: report needs to completely stand alone, you may need to add additional elements regarding background, methodology, and questionnaire flow that your client won't be able to share verbally.

Keeping these ten things in mind helps us get to the insights in reporting. Ultimately, our goal is to make sure we deliver answers to our client's questions which results in more informed business decisions.

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Ellie Hutton

Ellie is passionate about our customers' experience, shining a spotlight on the success of our customers, and bringing the voice of the customer to our business. She’s been with Vision Critical since 2006, in research, marketing, sales enablement, customer success and CX teams. Ellie has over 20 years of experience in research and marketing, partnering with companies across many verticals to build brands, develop products, retain customers, evaluate communications, develop strategy, and facilitate change.
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