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Enhancing the Role of Research and the Researcher

Client spend has proved worthwhile when the researcher immerses themselves in the creative process and is able to apply their thinking and new insights in real-time.

Editor’s Intro: I remember some years ago, doing an observational project in bars for one of the major beer brewers (a tough job, I know). One of the most valuable aspects of the work was that I got to spend a lot of time in an informal setting with the brand managers, something rare for me as an outside research supplier. Seeing what made them tick and talking over their issues was worth much more than reading reams of position papers and emails. I thought of that experience when reading Stephen Cribbett’s article, because of the value he places on standing shoulder to shoulder with business partners, and the many valuable points he makes about it. There are lessons here we need to remind ourselves of, as it is easy to lose sight of them in the daily pressures we all face.

One of the biggest barriers to success that keeps surfacing is that the insight and learnings they achieved simply weren’t being leveraged by the client. So, we thought we’d tackle this and provide some ideas and inspiration to help researchers cross the chasm and take pride in the fact that the money a client spent was, in fact, being utilised in positive ways.

1. Bring stakeholders in earlier and truly involve them.

We know first-hand how hard it can be to manage multiple diaries and get people in the room, especially when they aren’t the main sponsor of a project or initiative. By working hard to identify, engage and involve the right stakeholders early on, you’ll increase your chances of them valuing and activating the insight.

One client told us that ‘We stakeholders are mere mortals like everyone else. We have time pressures and attention deficit, so we need new techniques to capture our attention and involve us that are creative and convenient’.

We’ve seen digital productivity tools like Slack and Trello, and project management tools like Huddle, being used to get them in the room virtually, and they also work well when it comes to sharing the findings. We’ve seen storytelling video used on dedicated YouTube channels as an alternative to lengthy powerpoint presentations. We’ve seen fringe stakeholders brought into the process, then taken on a journey with researchers using simple digital inclusion techniques. All have heralded success.

2. Sit in their bunker, not yours

We’ve all heard about agile research and sprints (and read the agile manifesto!) and we’ve seen the outputs when researchers are embedded within the creative or design teams. I mean literally there, working alongside them.

By immersing the researcher in the creative process, you give them the chance to apply their thinking and surface new insight in real-time. They become part of the decision-making process and have a great say in how things are executed, working more collaboratively.

This approach leads to true ‘insight-led’ thinking or design and it ensures that the end result is creating great value for the end-user or consumer. A neat by-product of this approach is the enhanced value the research team then has, resulting in them winning more work opportunities on future projects.

3. Consider both the business and consumer lenses

Sure, clients have a need and a hunger for consumer insight, but they often lack a clear view or approach on how best to apply them ongoing or throughout the development process. It’s important to address the ‘what’ and ‘how’ as well as ‘why’ to ensure both the business and consumer perspectives are being considered. After all, both need to mesh (together) to get the work activated and reach a successful conclusion.

4. Create a level playing field and communicate success

All too often, research is seen as a last-minute bolt-on and not given the importance and say it deserves. Work hard to demonstrate the real value of research and how the process can lead to new ideas and fresh thinking, rather than the opposite and negatively viewpoint that research ‘kills’ ideas and creative thinking. If you can address this, you’ll see research escalating its role within organisations.

Research is worthy of a seat at the table where decisions are being made. Researchers dexterity, adaptability and know-how can influence all aspects of development work at every stage, so work hard to let others know this and be at ‘that table’ as the voice of the end user. Go one better and bring the end-user with you. After all, few others in the room will engage them in the way you have.

Place yourself at team meetings where decisions are being made and attend as many ‘water cooler’ conversations as you can! Reinforce just how many positive changes and new ideas have happened as a result of your efforts and how integral they have been to the brand or product development process. As with personal motivation, celebrate the small victories that everyday contributions bring and be sure to share these with others as a way to hit home the message.

5. Keep the Research Alive

Don’t wait to share the insight at the end of your study, instead, think about how you can inspire stakeholders along the way. There are many ways to share interesting observations as they happen (like using a dedicated, private channel on Slack or Twitter). These ‘aha’ moments have the ability to make people stop and think at any stage and may shape the questions and activities that are activated thereafter. They also let the team know that the work of the researcher doesn’t stop and that they can be the person to inspire action.

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