Don’t just do research, use it

I heard recently that one of our international Clients has just created a ‘Data’ department. The news made me wonder why they hadn’t called it the ‘Insight’ department instead. It also reminded me of a comment from another Client from a decade or so ago.

He was a former associate who had just joined a major UK food business to head up one of their key divisions. Let’s call him Jim. Jim was brought up in the grittier side of Glasgow and had worked for many years as an operations director. He tended to speak bluntly and to tell things exactly as they were. He’d been in his new business for a month or two and called us in to help him sort out the innovation strategy that was his immediate priority.

We were reviewing the current status of his business and the resources at his disposal. We got on to discuss the research that had been undertaken to date. Jim phrased it thus;

“I’ve got tons of f…ing data but no f…er can tell me what the f… to do with it”

Jim understood the difference between data and insight

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case in our experience. There can be a tendency for businesses to use the collection of ‘data’ as something of a comfort blanket in the belief that information will always be useful, at some point, and for some task, even if it’s actual purpose at any given time isn’t always clear.

‘Data’ implies a big pile of information – ‘research’ is a process that has a clear purpose

Of course, it’s generally helpful to understand ongoing sales patterns in your market sector, to have a good fix on brand awareness and up-to-date perceptions of your brand versus its competitors. Information is valuable, but it’s how it is used that’s more important.

And that starts with a clear understanding of why research is being undertaken. When a Client comes to us to discuss the possibility of a research project we start by asking three simple questions;


  1. What has prompted you to want to do this research? (What are the business issues or dynamics that have led you to knock on our door?)
  2. What are the objectives of the research – and what do you want the outputs to be?
  3. What are you going to use this research for?


The last question can sometimes be the most important one in determining how to shape and deliver the study. There are trade customers who respond well to ‘theatre’ and simple, succinct messages (so ‘vox-pop’ videos to bring consumer views to life are really valuable), whilst company boards tend to value substantive numbers that unequivocally demonstrate the superiority of their product over competitors (so a robust quantitative study is on the cards).

The really big (and very common) thing is to understand whether research is basically to re-enforce and validate an already held business viewpoint, or whether it is a genuine process of discovery for an inquisitive, open-minded brand-owner. Both are equally valid reasons to undertake a research study (although the latter is definitely preferable..) but can lead to very different methodologies, levels of investment and content.

Once our three questions have been properly answered we are confident that a tailored research study can be constructed with a clear purpose. From this sound platform clear and usable insights should emerge, enabling the initiator to move their business forward with confidence.

Because research is a lot more valuable when you know what the f… to do with it.

Words by Chris Blythe

Find out more about our research project here.