As a qualitative researcher, I love asking questions. I think we all do. It’s exciting, challenging and gratifying to figure out the right way to ask them, to achieve the nuance that is going to bring out the richest, most meaningful insight.
But when it comes time to deliver that insight to our clients in a way that engages and compels, many people’s enthusiasm runs out.
Staring at a cursor flashing on a blank PowerPoint slide can make the most passionate researcher wonder how on earth they will be able to recreate on screen the vibrant, compelling story the consumer shared. How will the tenderness of a mom talking about her baby, or the indignation of a customer who doesn’t feel valued, or the confusion of a viewer who doesn’t “get” your ad come through on that blank white slide?
It’s easy enough to type up some bullet points that deliver information. And for many people, a straightforward, just-the-facts approach gets the job done. But for me, one of the most demanding yet rewarding parts of analyzing and delivering insight is the narrative. In order to give our clients a vivid picture of the people we’re talking about, we have to do more than just spell out the findings. We have to tell a story.
I know. I know. Storytelling has become one of those ubiquitous buzzwords, played out to the point that it’s lost much of its intended meaning. But trends aside, stories have a purpose. They draw the reader in, get them invested in what’s happening, and by virtue of that investment, are very effective at persuading, convincing, and giving confidence. And isn’t that what you want to leave your client with? Confidence that you “get it,” that your understanding of the consumer runs deep and allows you to deconstruct and answer their business question in a way others can’t?
It’s a lofty goal, and we might not reach it every time. But it’s what we aim for, and something I like to think we have a pretty good track record with. And to achieve the holy grail of a report that the client will actually enjoy reading, we follow these 6 guiding principles.
- Be the client When you frame your report, don’t build it on the objectives. That’s not how your client will be reading it. Walking them down the line from Question A through Question Z might give them all the information, but it’ll probably bore them to death first. Instead, make the hook of your analysis be their burning business question. Everything else can roll up to that one big idea.
- Be transparent Because you’re not doing a play-by-play of the data, it’s important to give them confidence and make it clear how you arrived at your assumptions. Don’t make the reader work to understand how you arrived at your conclusions. Spell it out clearly, walking them through your thought process in a logical way.
- Be human! Too many research reports put a wall up between the reader and the consumer. But these aren’t just “respondents,” they are dads and teachers, IT professionals and doctors, restaurant workers and grocery store cashiers. Bring them to life with energetic language, a conversational tone, and a total rejection of jargon.
- Be specific In qualitative research we’re often speaking in shades of grey. But within that context, we still have to be specific. Avoid words like “some” and “many.” Find a way to indicate a sense of degree so the client can buy in to what you’re saying.
- Be visual When trying to compare ideas side by side or deliver an overview of the learnings, use tables, diagrams and graphics to get to the point. Why make your client read a page of text when a picture can deliver that information at a glance?
- Be yourself Clients have almost limitless choices for conducting research, but they chose you. So make sure that when they receive the insight, when they learn the findings and hear what the consumers have to say, they are hearing it in your voice. Even if you can’t get in front of your client to present the insight, make sure your deliverable contains enough of your personality that they remember who wrote it.