industry thoughts from Clarteza

28 January
Mag Retelewski

From Gray to Clear: Putting the Pieces Together

In our recent post on qual vs. quant research, we touched on one of the critical issues facing market researchers today, the question of how we use, store and re-use data we obtain from the investments we make in research and information.  The amount of data available to us continues to grow in magnitude and scope.  We have qual data, quant data, syndicated data, social media data, competitive intelligence data, all coming at us all the time in a rapidly evolving global marketplace.  How do we keep that data alive and use it to make insightful business decision.  It’s impossible to know, remember, consolidate and synthesize every piece of data that could prove relevant.  While many of us would love to spend large parts of our day focused on business strategy and reading, reviewing and analyzing anything we might think might tell an interesting story or come up with the next game-changing product, our job descriptions don’t allow time or that.  But, at the same time, we are the keepers of information, and there is a certain expectation that we have all the data at our fingertips.  How to we balance those two extremes?

Gray: “We keep track of all our research studies in databases where everyone can access”

In most organizations, we hold onto all of our old research data.  Reports and proposals are tagged with requisition numbers, projects are line items in our budgets, and we store everything on an intranet so everyone can access old data and continue to use those insights for new needs.  Our marketers, salespeople, brand managers and strategists know how to read the data and know what insights our research has generated.

Clear: Research insights gather dust in databases

Marketers are busy marketing, brand managers are busy managing brands, and you’re busy contracting, executing and analyzing current research needs.  Databases of old research results and key consumer insights are only useful if we know when and how to use it.  Fundamentally, no one is spending their time looking for ‘old research’.  Instead, what everyone in the organization is trying to do is understand the key business questions, how they have changed, and what insights can help provide answers to those burning questions.  We need systems and databases that link and connect insights and questions, rather than list and categorize research methodologies.  Keep track of old research by categorizing by questions or succinct statements that can resonate with future business needs.  What was a key insight that came from each study?  What was the key business question being addressed – not in research-speak (e.g. assess revenue potential of concept X), but in business-speak (e.g. can adding X product to our line grow the brand in pursuit of Strategy Y?).  Consider putting links into each new research report to relevant prior studies, along with key related insights from those prior studies, to help keep data alive and meaningful in today’s context.


Gray: “How do I keep richness of data while consolidating things so they are easier to retain”

One of the key challenges in keeping data alive and blending together bits and pieces of various types and sources of information is that we have to shorten things to keep them memorable.  Segmentation studies turn into 6 segment names, concept tests turn into ‘this one, this lost’.  We may remember and hold onto tidbits of past research and disparate bits of information, but we lose the richness of the insights when we do so.

Clear: There’s no way to avoid it, but it can be managed

We can’t possibly take the time to review and re-review everything we have done, and we can’t keep every insight at our fingertips, but there are small things we can work into our routines and schedules to jog memories and keep insights alive.  Setting aside time to full read one old report per week – is there anything in this old report that has become more relevant, or raises different questions, or can be applied to something new?  Why did that concept fail? What were the key recommendations, could they work somewhere else?  If we start by taking the time to understand the key business issues of the day, we can set aside a little time to look back and find different, or old data, that could help provide different answers.  Setting aside a couple of hours a week is manageable for most of us, and we can use that time to develop a list of key business questions, and seek out data related to those.  The key objective being: connecting the dots between those reports, data and insights to find ‘the story’ that’s relevant and meaningful.


Gray: “I’m in this alone”

Oftentimes as researchers feel alone in organizations in the market research world.  The brand teams and the marketing teams have other issues at hand, the other researchers are working on their assignments, and typically suppliers work on pieces of the puzzle, but not the whole puzzle.  Researchers feel buried under a pile of data and sometimes disconnected from the overarching issues, yet wish to add value, and to take the time to go beyond executing this week’s research study.

Clear: I don’t have to be alone

Researchers interact with a lot of people, both internally and externally, and as researchers, can be a driving force for ensuring that business meetings aren’t always completely focused on executing tasks and reviewing the week’s assignment.

To address these issues:

  • Encourage regular meetings to discuss the broader issues, the business strategy, bringing together different stakeholders.  From there, you can then determine and spend a little time digging up disparate data sources or old information that can help provide some insights.
  • What is on marketing’s mind this week, and do we have anything that can help?
  • Putting up visual displays, charts, and maps in offices that incorporate evolving pieces of new information can provoke conversation with those stopping by.
  • Keep an ongoing record of out-of-the-box findings that arise from different pieces of research and information.
  • Consider a regular newsletter to internal stakeholders that discusses a business topic of interest and that reviews related research.  What have we learned over time about a customer segment?  What interesting findings have we uncovered throughout the month on a variety of topics?
  • Keep open dialogue between departments by scheduling ‘stand up meetings’ once in a while to share out of the box ideas, but keep it short so people don’t lose focus or get tired of standing. What is often apparent from ‘outside’ is that frequently brands/products sometimes work in parallel trying to address the same or similar issue. This could be a forum that can help the creative juices flowing in organizations ‘horizontally’.


Importantly, ‘outside forces’ such as consulting companies and agencies can become allies in keeping data alive, melding data from disparate sources, and increasing the value and input to the organization.  Outside agencies can help formulate plans and systems for displaying, discussing, sharing and disseminating information throughout your organization in a periodic, timely way that helps the business grow.  Those companies can be enlisted to put together periodic reviews of work done, and meld together implications, either across just what they have done, or across a swathe of other suppliers and sources.  Meetings can be set that discuss broad themes and strategies within the business, rather than just discuss current research project needs.  Ultimately, finding a business partner can be truly collaborative, helping to consolidate, review and disseminate data from now and then, and across different data sources to get you those rich ‘big picture’ insights that you feel you’ve been missing.