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[GRIT COMMENTARY] The Importance of the Story and How It’s Told

2015 Q1-Q2 GRIT Report commentary by Jackie Lorch, Vice President, Global Knowledge Management for SSI, sharing her thoughts on the current state of the market research industry.

Researchers have been asking for a “seat at the table” for a long time. In fact this hopeful desire has become such a familiar industry goal that we almost don’t hear the words anymore and don’t think much about their meaning. But is this a big enough, bold enough industry goal? Should we be content with just a seat at the table, however peripheral our influence and involvement in key decisions? Is any seat OK, even if we get the shortest chair, furthest away from the head of the table?

Could research aspire to a more central position in the organization, with key decision-makers instead taking a seat at the research table where insights are shared and the data needed to support big strategic decisions is clearly and compellingly delivered? How would the research industry have to change to make that happen?

This GRIT survey asked some new questions to help shed light on how research is perceived and used by companies today, and how researchers define themselves. The results indicate that roles are shifting and there is no group clearly in charge of the data function within businesses. 

Data synthesis opens doors

When research buyers were asked who in their organization is mainly responsible for synthesizing different data sources, almost a third said no one is responsible for this, and less than half (44%) cited a market research/insights department as having this responsibility. A 2014 BCG report said “Big data has brought game-changing shifts to the way data is acquired, analyzed, stored, and used,” yet “Less understood—much less put into practice—are the steps that companies must take in order to realize that potential.” This lack of cohesion and organization around data sourcing could represent a massive opportunity for researchers who know data better than anyone.

Transformation of data delivery

Researchers are rock solid when it comes to delivering reliable data – but may not be as strong when it comes to telling the stories that will grab the attention of the C-suite. Less than half (41%) of research buyers in this study say research is used in their organization as an input into important customer-facing decisions or as a main way to understand customer experience.

Scientists have proved through biochemistry what we all know: stories resonate, stay in the mind and have the power to change behavior. Those who tell compelling stories get and keep their listeners’ attention. Yet only a quarter of research buyers in this study see market research as a way to tell the stories that help business understand how different data sources fit together. Is this because researchers spend too much time perfecting charts and tables and have no time to create meaning from the data? Or do researchers not see storytelling as their role? 

The report also highlights the minimal amount of time researchers apparently spend presenting and consulting on the implications of research. Are we thinking enough about how we present data compared to how we collect and analyze it? Recent research we have done at SSI has highlighted the need to match the data presentation style to the listener, whether infographic or simple chart.

Opportunity is knocking

We are in a time of blurred roles within organizations and blurred lines about what the role of a researcher is compared to that of a consultant, an analyst or an advisor. This too creates massive opportunity for researchers.

But businesses will soon figure out how to handle big data and who should be in charge, because it represents too big of an opportunity for them not to. So the window of opportunity for researchers to own business data is limited. 

In a recent editorial ESOMAR Director General Finn Raben and President Laurent Flores urged researchers to stand up for the value and relevancy of research, quoting poet Dylan Thomas and urging us to “rage against the dying of the light.” Dylan Thomas also said “A good poem is a contribution to reality... A good poem helps to change the shape of the universe, helps to extend everyone’s knowledge of himself and the world around him.” 

We might say the same about a good research story, well told.

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