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The role of research must shift from explaining to predicting

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In the past, market research delivered value through hindsight. In the future, market research will deliver value through foresight. The role of research and the value it can deliver must evolve  from explaining what has happened to predicting what is likely to happen and providing clear direction for brand growth.

At a time when the increased amount and availability of information does not always provide greater clarity, the role of research needs to move rapidly from generating insight to providing the right insight at the right time so decision makers can improve commercial outcomes.

Research needs to  define two important issues that are central to unlocking commercial return:

Address the confusion arising from competing and siloed insight feeds

Businesses have a vast array of data sources, which are often incomplete and disconnected across organisations. This can lead to siloed views that don’t provide a complete perspective. When information and analysis reside within parts of an organisation that have a specific preferred agenda, and the team is not trained in how best to handle and interpret information, a single version of what is accurate and true can be lost. Furthermore, with many data points and reports to select from, objectivity can be compromised, confirmation bias can take root and self-serving narratives can emerge.

Research functions need to re-boot the basic principles of good organisation and objective analysis that put the customer and objective truth centre stage. Key to accomplishing this are:

– Centralisation: Centralised research, insight and planning functions need to be reinstated and empowered to collate and corral all market and consumer intelligence for the organisation. These areas have been neglected in recent years.

– Objective and unbiased analysis: This centralised function needs to be tasked explicitly with providing objective analysis and a neutral single view of the consumer and market for the business, rather than simply processing briefs and managing research budgets.

Move from rear-view research to forward-facing insight

Research needs to stop providing large reports that detail what has happened in the past and move to providing the right information at the right time to guide decision-making when it matters most. Large traditional research studies are often too slow and have too much information, which is not immediately usable or realistically digestible for the business in a single serving.

Research delivery needs to serve the right insight to the right business decision makers, as and when they need it, to improve outcomes.

Research has built an arsenal of delivery channels but has struggled to use these in a strategic way that connects meaningfully with internal stakeholders and decision makers. Having certain tools (dashboards, dynamic KPI alerts, flash reports, segment personas etc.) to communicate doesn’t always ensure they are used in a way that achieves impact. The development of a clear internal communication strategy for the sharing of insight is required to address this issue.

Delivering timely and clear insight is important but it is just the starting point. Being able to advise on likely outcomes is where insight moves from a cost to an investment in growth. This transition needs people who understand internal stakeholders’ needs, challenges and the viability of decision options. Having this understanding arms these research professionals with the foresight to write briefs that aren’t welded to the past but tell the business what can happen in the future.

This proactive role is the opposite to the current passive-reactive job that characterises much research and many research functions. Marketing and commercial stakeholders need to insist on this proactivity, and researchers (on the client and agency side) must embrace it.

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