Making an impact in market research

Insight businesses are rightly asked to deliver “impact” in our work. In this blog, Nick Voulis, Director at Incite, reflects on some of the key ingredients that give insight lasting impact.

I once heard a colleague describe successful market research as “asking the right questions of the right people and presenting your findings clearly.” This grossly oversimplifies a complex profession. But it’s also difficult to argue against it.

Here are 6 things I’ve learned in my career for delivering insight with impact:

1/ Work backwards. We tend to gravitate towards the end of a project when thinking about “impact”. But the truth is that actionability is largely determined at the inception. It’s what Mark Ritson referred to as “backward market research” – starting with the desired outcome and reverse engineering the research to deliver exactly that. It’s why we invest time defining the central business question and the desired outcomes, at the start of every project.

2/ Be pragmatic. One of my first ever clients gave me two pieces of advice about pragmatism which have stuck with me throughout my career. The first is to take a step back from our survey and ask ourselves honestly whether we could answer the questions. If we can’t then “ordinary” people certainly won’t be able to, and our results are unlikely to be impactful. The second is to always accept that primary research has limitations – people may not be able to express exactly how they would behave, external factors cannot be perfectly incorporated into our findings. So, we shouldn’t imply a level of accuracy that we can’t guarantee. Rather we should present the weight of evidence, tendencies, confidence, and always acknowledge that external factors are present.

3/ Triangulate. Integrating existing insight, published data, and supporting material helps achieve impact in two ways. It provides validity to our work, serving to reassure the audience that they can trust the findings. And it makes it more interesting and memorable, providing broader context that makes it easier to build connections and create more compelling narratives.

4/ Synthesise. This comes full circle from defining the central business question at the outset. It taps into the often-cited quotation “I didn’t have time to write you a short debrief so I wrote you a long one.” Successful presentations start with a “logline” – one or two sentences that explain an idea. The human brain craves meaning before details. When a listener doesn’t understand the overarching idea being presented, they struggle to digest the information. At Incite, we use frameworks like the pyramid principle to ensure we produce a synthesised view on every piece of work.

5/ Rehearse. The insights debrief is the culmination of all the hard work before it. The key moment for the research to have immediate and lasting impact. We often think about what research can learn from other professions. Imagine an actor stepping on stage who hadn’t rehearsed their lines. A footballer taking a crucial penalty who hadn’t honed their technique. Research delivery should be carefully scripted, polished, and practiced. Anything less is a huge, missed opportunity.

6/ Build on what you already know. Researchers often view the debrief as the end game. But the debrief is just the start for the use of the work. Segmentation is a case in point. A successful segmentation will have a detailed activation plan/roadmap built in from day one, with the necessary resource (financial and human) earmarked to support it. The goal should be to add small layers of incremental understanding on an ongoing basis (e.g. via a community panel), to create a steady stream of ‘new news’ about the segments. This helps create enduring value and impact.

At Incite, we’re lucky to have great clients that we work closely with, that makes delivering impact much easier. If you have a business problem or challenge, we would love to hear from you