Five top tips for Research self-sufficiency

This year has seen an upsurge in self-sufficiency – from broad beans on the balcony to a growing aspiration for more DIY research in client organisations. Both have their rewards, and homegrown research can make the research budget go further and take insights deeper into the company.

But as most aspirational gardeners have discovered, the resulting harvest can be less abundant than hoped.

Similarly, those tasked with DIY research can find themselves putting in a lot of time and effort and not coming up with the bounty of insight that their organisation is hungry for.

As Tom and Barbara Good found out in the 1970s, self sufficiency can be hard work. It takes time, effort, energy and motivation. Often on top of the ‘day job’.

Having said that, the tools and platforms now available to the research DIY-er are brilliant if you know how to use them and have the time to spend making the most of them. And doing it yourself has an element of emotional reward that can be highly valuable in driving change into the business.

So the trick – as with any DIY project – is knowing which tools to use for which jobs, and when to call on the experts.

We’ve worked with clients in a number of different ways straddling the new DIY world and traditional agency-driven solutions, from light touch problem definition to full on analysis and consulting. Here are our top tips to make it work for you.

1 / Define your goals

This is obvious, isn’t it? But we’ve worked with many different clients recently who have been data rich and insight poor. The sheer wealth of data and resources available can make it difficult to work out exactly what’s needed and how to deliver it.

Start by thinking about who your stakeholders are and then what they need. It could be that you’re struggling to bring consumer insight to the top table. It could be that you just need to get basic reporting of brand performance in place as a starting point, or you might want to have more of a finger on the pulse of people’s changing needs in an evolving pandemic world.

Work out what you’re trying to achieve before you start.

2 / Keep it simple and focused

We use Issue Trees as a principal tool in defining business challenges. This is a powerful tool to help frame the Core Question you’re seeking to answer. It helps you define what you need to find out and what you can safely ignore.

We talked about Issue Trees and how to use them in our webinar on Agile working – you can watch it here.

Once you know what you’re focusing on, it becomes easier and more manageable to target your precious resources (time, energy, money) at finding the solution – or insights – you need. As ever, start with the end in mind. Think about frameworks and outputs before you start, to make sure they are clear and complete at the end of the process.

3 / Identify relevant sources of data

With the benefit of your Core Question and Issue Tree you can quickly and easily identify which data sources to turn to and where the gaps lie.

You might want to build a new insight sharing platform or dashboard or maybe you want to top up your funnel of innovation inspiration. Either way, you will now be able to work out which data and which tools to turn to for answers.

We did just this for one of our clients earlier this year. We worked with their data and their tech partners to build a dashboard tool that would drive regular insight updates. Not only has this provided the data and insights they need, but the focus of the dashboard means that stakeholders are fully engaged with it – making best use of their investment and reaping the rewards in the business.

4 / Call on your networks

Organisational wisdom is, we think, the great untapped resource in businesses. Even before the new world of ‘distributed working’ (AKA working remotely), we consistently saw clients missing out on the opportunity to learn from within.

So before you commission new work, check out what you already know internally. Dredge the knowledge banks and the experience of the organisation.

Use your internal networks – and your agency partner networks – to build insight with you. It will minimise the amount of money you spend re-learning the same things from research and can often tell you things and inspire you in ways conventional marketing research never will.

We are increasingly harnessing the power of our clients’ global stakeholder networks and our own trusted supplier networks to provide cost and time efficient on-the-ground audits. These agile, targeted engagements can be deployed as and when required without the overheads of primary research.

5 / Bring in experts where it will add value

You don’t have to do it all yourself. Even Tom and Barbara used a rotavator to turn the lawn into a vegetable plot. We recommend clients work with agencies like us when one of three things isn’t available in-house: capacity, capability or creativity.

Capability is the obvious one. In the days before DIY solutions, this was the principal reason to work with a research agency: they had the expertise, the kit and the experience. And there will still be cases where that is the case. Not every company will want to build in-house expertise for complex conjoint, immersive ethnography or deep data science. But more and more often, capability won’t be the reason to work with an external partner for everyday research.

Capacity is an easy limitation to recognise; we can’t think of too many of our clients who complain of having too little work to do. But smart organisations usually unlock budget when internal teams’ lack of bandwidth is acting as a brake on unlocking opportunities. Bringing in the support to act on an opportunity quickly can be the difference between first-to-market and also-ran.

Creativity is maybe the least obvious benefit of bringing in outside help. But agencies like ours work across more problems, solutions and tactics in a week than might be considered by any one of our clients in a year. From novel ways to look at challenges, to inventive curation of evidence and inspiration, and creating solutions and strategies that drive change, external perspectives are often the thing to galvanise action in situations that can feel intractable or unclear.

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