Insight without research

Even in normal circumstances, organisations can struggle to transform the data available to them into insight that guides decision making. And these are not normal circumstances. While many of our clients are going ahead with primary research as planned, others are not able to. Some have frozen budgets as organisations try to control expenditure; others have taken a view that consumers’ responses to their specific categories are going to be too unrepresentative at the moment for research to be wise. 

But decisions still need to be made. And in this case, you have to turn to the information that is already available. We do a lot of this type of work already – synthesising prior research, business data, public data and the like to guide things like brand planning processes. 

In our experience, the way to convert raw and semi-processed data into advice that can unlock opportunity is to synthesise that data using three principles:

1 / Start with a question

2 / Be open-minded about where the answer will come from

3 / Be pragmatic

So firstly, start with a question. Occasionally, Incite has been handed huge piles of files and folders full of ‘stuff’ and asked if we could tell the client what’s in them. The first thing we do is ask why. There is no point diving into data until you know what question you are trying to answer. As for any piece of work, thoroughly scoping objectives and establishing that core question is critical. Once you have your question (as SMART as possible please) you can then create an ‘insight framework’ – simply put, a set of things you need to know before you can answer the question. At this stage, don’t worry about whether you know how to find the information you need.

Once you’ve got your framework, fill it in. Some things will have an obvious source: sales data or business plans, previous qualitative research or surveys that measure consumer response to planned new products or communications. It’s important to have a good understanding of the main types of proprietary data that your colleagues have access to so that you know what to ask for and how to extract insight from them. But on top of this, public data sources like ONS or CIA can be very useful and so can less objective sources such as the news media, social media and hypotheses based on experience and common sense.

The fact is, some of the things you need to know may not be available or may only be partial, and this is where the traditional market researcher often loses their nerve. But the organisation needs an answer and someone who is immersed in their data and their issues is the best qualified person to give one. Go as far as common sense allows, but no further: Where gaps are yawning, deliver a learning plan so the business can direct future insight work to fill in the blanks.  

Finally, once your framework is complete, it should be a straightforward job to use the accumulated insight to answer the business question directly and provide a clear plan on what to do next. In Incite’s experience, the best way to do this is to write up the plan longhand, agree it with key stakeholders, and then add supporting facts, keeping the focus on what to do, rather than the numbers. At this point in the process, the last thing you want to do is overload the final report with data – the whole point of the exercise is to distil a lot of data into a clear, concise plan that helps your business grow.

Using this method of synthesis, Incite has helped build plans from vast existing data sources for a wide range of clients in FMCG, technology, financial services and pharmaceutical and saved our clients’ time and money along the way. If you’d like to know more, get in touch.

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