Setting Up Research For Success

Girls in STEM Mentor jan Choudhury

by | 29 Sep, 2021 | Untapped Thinking

There is increasing pressure on brands to unearth new powerful insight with research that goes deeper, yet budget and time constraints present a challenge. Research methodologies are continually evolving to reveal deeper insight with greater agility, so how can clients best plan for success, avoid cutting corners on the planning, briefing and design stages of the research and get the best return on their research spend?

We have collaborated with highly experienced research and innovation expert, Heather Newton as well as Global Insights Lead for the Innovation C of E at Reckitt, Lucy Lindsley, to share our combined thoughts. Here are 5 steps we would like to share that reflect our thoughts on setting up your research for success:

Invest time upfront

Pulling together a brief can feel like a daunting task that’s hard to start, but we all know that taking the time to get clear on a strategy upfront will prevent conflicting opinions later on, saving time and money. You can buy cutting edge hiking gear, but if you don’t know your destination you can easily end up lost in the jungle.

Success Favours The Prepared Untapped Innovation

Articulate your business question

In a recent Ipsos Mori report on ‘The Role of Insights in the Data Era’, former EVP, CMI Unilever, Stan Sthanunathan quotes “Insight functions have moved on from the ‘what’, i.e. focusing on tools and techniques to the ‘so what’, i.e. providing insights that provoke growth-driving actions.”

However, I am still sometimes asked to ‘run a couple of focus groups to learn about topic x’, but we’ll never get to the ‘so what’ if we don’t start with the why and lead with a business question. In order to do this, we first need to articulate the business issue. This might be big picture or very specific, but it should feel ripe for a response. An example is shown below:

Untapped Innovation setting up research for success example

Plan to enable action

Before starting to capture what you would like to know (an easy list to write), consider what actions you want the research to enable. These should relate back to your business issue and question. For example:

Untapped Innovation setting up research for success example

Bridge the gap with research objectives

Research is like catnip to insight, marketing, R&D and innovation teams, so you can quickly end up with a huge list of things everyone wants to explore in the research. But the more focused your objectives, the more focused your result. Your research objectives should act as the bridge between your business question and the actions you want the research to enable. Taking our example:

Untapped Innovation setting up research for success example

You will likely be sitting on a gold mine of research. In order to maximise the return on investment of existing research, take the time to review it and determine a) what you have already learned so you don’t repeat anything and b) what your knowledge gaps are. We also call this asset mining.

Final stakeholder check-in

We find that the framework in steps 1-4 is useful to help clarify your own thinking, but it’s also valuable as a prompt for discussion with stakeholders through the whole process. As a fifth step, it’s a good idea to have a final check-in with them, especially since time may have lapsed and business objective may no longer be relevant or actions they planned to take may no longer be actionable!

However, beware of asking stakeholders if anything is missing, since you’ll likely end up with a long list of builds that may not be core to addressing the business challenge. Invite input to help get a full picture of the business issue and sense-check whether answering the business question as articulated will really address the problem. Asking what success looks like to them is a useful prompt to identify any hidden expectations.

A great brief can evolve over time, but the end result should feel like a coherent whole with a central thread running through all elements.

At this stage you will want to get your agency or research partners involved, to jointly design the best research to deliver against these steps. How to get the most out of your agency is a topic in itself, which we’ll cover next week. And on the 6 October, Lucy and I will be hosting a webinar to discuss the topic of setting up research for success in more detail.

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