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How to unlock the value of your research

How to unlock the value of your research

By Janet Coates, an independent consumer insight consultant and founder of The Insight Connection (

How much money does your business (or marketing department) spend on consumer or customer research each year?  And how much of that is wasted? 

What happens to the research after the debrief meeting has finished and the critical “next steps” decisions are taken?  Does it ever see the light of day again?

If you’re in one of those companies which simply files research away after the debrief and forgets about it, you’re not alone.  Most research is rarely used more than once.

But in the current climate of growing accountability and shrinking budgets, businesses are increasingly looking for smarter ways to get better value out of their research spend.

And while some savings can always be made by doing less research, leading organisations are doing things a different way: by using better what they’ve already got.

After all, significant investment in research creates a valuable asset – and one that can profitably be exploited. Tapping into the knowledge base is all about harnessing existing consumer learning. Organisations doing this are finding that the potential to save both money and time is huge. 

Below, we consider the following questions:

- What is the knowledge base? 
- How can you tap into it effectively? 
- What are the benefits of doing so? 

What is the knowledge base?

It’s not just about the pile of old research reports in the filing cabinet – although those will always be a good place to start.  An organisation’s consumer or customer knowledge base will have accumulated in many and varied places.

As well as published reports, syndicated studies and custom research, much knowledge and experience will reside with individuals.

A wealth of insights can be gained by listening to people who work on your brand, now or previously.  And look beyond marketing: people in R&D, sales or finance may have valuable experience to share.

Finally, don’t forget the ‘outside’ experts: advertising, PR or research suppliers may be incredibly knowledgeable.

How can you tap into the knowledge base effectively?

Tapping into the existing knowledge base can be time-consuming.  Information can be held in disparate places, by a range of individuals, and in unwieldy formats.

Moreover, it isn’t a simple matter of re-reading old research reports.  For a review to add real business value, it must be approached with focus, discipline, plus a degree of creativity. 

Because of the time commitment and skills involved, many companies appoint independent consumer insight consultants to conduct this kind of work.  The advantage is that they are quickly able to assimilate a range of information from diverse sources, taking a holistic view through fresh eyes.

Often, such individuals have worked in client-side environments themselves, which gives them a good understanding of key issues and the best way of tracking down information.    

Whether you opt to review the knowledge base internally or externally, here are some things to consider: 

1.  Before starting, devise a clear analysis framework.  Define your critical business issue, specific questions you need to answer and hypotheses to validate.    

2.  As well as research, list all the other possible sources of information that could bring a different angle, such as published research, customer feedback, media articles, blogs.  And don’t forget people’s views and experience.

3.  Collect your observations methodically.  As you talk to people, or read reports,  log key facts, insights or hunches under your question headings. 

4.  Take a step back.   It’s not just about playing back what is known: the added value comes from synthesizing information, and creating new insights or models.  Try to headline the big insights and express them as simply as possible.   

5.  Be flexible!  You may come across unexpected areas of insight on your journey.  Be prepared to take detours along the way (but don’t lose sight of where you’re trying to get to).  

6.  Don’t worry if you can’t answer every single question.  Aim to sharpen your understanding of what the real knowledge gaps are.  Then, if you have to do more research, you can make it very focused.

What are the benefits?

There are three main benefits of this approach.  The first is about developing new understanding – of a particular brand, business issue or consumer target.

The second is clarity - an experienced consultant will cut through information overload and present a succinct and pertinent summary.  They will be able to look across brand portfolios or geographies to spot patterns and synergies that might otherwise remain hidden.

Finally, the third benefit is value.  Not only are you maximising the value of your existing research, but you are likely to save time and money further down the track, because any additional research you need can be tightly focused on remaining knowledge gaps.

For a list of independent market research consultants click on 'Find A Consultant' at

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