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Insight Through and Through

Insight Through and Through


At some point early this century, market research gave itself a do-over and we re-named our business ‘Insight’.

This reflected the ambition to switch from being stuffy, boring and on the margins of business, to being right at the heart of commercial life. As researchers, we wanted to help businesses really ‘get’ their customers – because having insight about how people truly think and behave must surely lead to better business decisions…

Since that time many researchers have transformed their research methods. Offering new approaches like Co Creation, Mobile Ethnography, techniques grounded in Behavioural Economics and Design Thinking.

We’ve tried too, to make our outputs more compelling: better visuals in our slide decks, much more emphasis on multi-media presentations, shorter punchier debriefs.

And yet…

The end point of our projects is so often the formal debrief. Where we-the-researcher present to the audience you-the-client.

That’s a problem. Research findings end up being delivered not with a bang, but a whimper. It feels like the opposite of Insight.

Perhaps the answer is to challenge ourselves to deliver insight ‘through-and-through’. From start to finish.

Here’s an example of what I mean. Client A – an on-line retailer, wants to understand how their customers want to pay for and take delivery of their purchases. The client team are at odds with each other about which payment and delivery strategy will deliver most long-term customer loyalty and fit with what customers want.

The brief cries out for ‘Insight’… how are people currently shopping, what are their needs, what would be their ideals?

And there are some great methods we can use to gain that insight at the fieldwork stage of the project.

But how do we debrief the client so that the insight is truly embedded within their business, to help them make better decisions?

Surely a conventional debrief with Researcher-Presenter, Client-Audience is going to end up in either the researcher deciding for the business the best way forward (active ‘action-oriented debrief) or passively laying out a ‘this happened’ debrief, leaving the client to make their own mind up about what next?

An insight-through-and-through approach could be different.
Here’s what I recommended to my client in response to their brief in an attempt to deliver insight from start to finish. (I don’t know if I’m doing the project yet for them. I’ll write up how it went if I get it.)

First off, I suggested that we (the researchers) go about our research in the usual way. We’d interview, then analyse our findings, understanding the key factors that were in play for people when they were making their buying decisions. That’s researcher insight, I guess.

Then the client insight would start. I suggested that the researchers should cherry pick a certain number of the ‘best’ interviews and re-play them (cut-down, but live interviews) in front of the client team so that the clients could see and hear first-hand the insight the researchers had been experiencing.

After each of the ‘best-bits’ interviews, I suggested we take time with the client team to chat through the implications of that particular session. At the end of these sessions we’d convene a client conversation about the implications of what we’d learned and what that means for their business strategy.

For this project, I also recommended we supplement our cherry-picked interviews with a customer closeness workshop bringing clients and participants together. I also recommended a final what’s-our-best-strategy client discussion…

So the whole process demanded a day out of the diary from the client team.

In this type of approach, the role of the researcher is clearly different from usual: we need to skill up so we can keep clients on track in terms of their interpretation, helping steer them away from confirmation bias, literal interpretations, all those analysis bear-pits we’ve learned to skirt around during the time we’ve served as researchers.

This approach means we become insight-facilitators.

The role of the client would change too: they’d become active thinkers/ participants in the insight process.

And the final debrief? Is it needed? Probably. I can see the value in a presentation that wraps up the key insights, leads clients into a what’s-next discussion…taking place after the dust has settled. Although I could see it being lead ideally by the client Insight Manager, who after all, knows so much more in-depth about the business needs of the client group.

The downsides?

Well, it demands client team participation – to turn up to the cherry-picked sessions, to actively participate in the analysis and immerse themselves with ‘insight’ – and together as a team.

Not always an easy ask.

But if the client team can make time to participate, and put insight at the heart of their business (and so many companies claim to be customer focused), then surely it’s all upside?


Kath Rhodes, Qual Street Owner

I love love learning and so I invest time and resources with Ambreen and Claire into exploring social psychology, neuro science, creativity and new techniques in research. Read all about it and help yourself to the ideas that will deliver your business the insight it needs

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@Qualstreet on 17 March 2023