As we race at alarming speed into the future, accessorised with new technologies, swathed in big data and seduced by social media, it is important to step back and reflect on the bigger picture. Sometimes on a day to day level it’s easy to forget that we are living through one of the greatest revolutions the world has seen – the digital revolution. The result of that revolution has been an unprecedented change in the way we communicate. Yet how much has the market research industry really kept up? In the 12 years I’ve spent in research I have seen the ways the World consumes information change radically – now we are used to Tweets, infographics, Instagram, vine and Facebook. And it has become the norm for newspapers and other media to present complex, data-rich stories in visually exciting ways. But during that time I have seen very little change in the way research information is shared. Most market research is still communicated via long PowerPoint presentations and reports.
Two years ago at an ESOMAR Congress, Lorna Walters from Reckitt Benckiser presented her audience with a 278 slide ‘summary’ she had been sent by a research agency. She pointed out that she could run a marathon faster than read the summary. You could hear the shock waves reverberate around the room; yet this is not an unusual situation.
The problem is more fundamental than simply changing to Prezi or sticking some pretty pictures or vox pops in to alleviate to boredom; researchers must become much better all-round communicators. We must learn to understand context, tell stories; package and sell ideas. I have been running a workshop on communicating insights for the past couple of years. We use an example of a real (anonymous) dreadful presentation and ask participants to work on it to improve it. We give teams as much of the context as we can and lots of data. We tell them to work from the data to build the story, create a powerful opening and make clear recommendations. Every single time we have done this exercise, using the same data set, the teams have come up with a different story, different ‘hook’ and different recommendations. So which is right? The ‘right’ answer is the one that is presented in the most compelling, motivating and memorable way – the one that the client or stakeholder listens to and the one that engenders action or reaction. This requires a different mind-set for a lot of researchers, but they are skills that can be taught.
For research to meet the challenges of the new media age, we need to radically rethink how we communicate and deliver our product. We must develop and integrate skills in story-telling and use professional design expertise to change how we get our message across. Or someone else will be doing it for us.
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