Digital Insights, Physical Communication – The Best of Both

Emily James

Pitch It: The Business Case for Customer Salience

As insight experts, we understand the power of insights, their inherent value in key decision-making...


Emily James

    Nowadays, everything we can possibly think to do has moved online. Writing letters has been replaced with emails and instant messaging, physical copies of music are only bought to use with nearly outdated technology, otherwise we stream our music through radio, Spotify, and Apple music. We can keep in touch with everyone we know through video calls, and all of our organisation efforts are typically done through phone reminders and online calendars. We book appointments and reservations online, leave reviews online (the new ‘word of mouth’ advertisements), store pictures and other beloved memories in the cloud rather than getting pictures printed, pay for absolutely anything through contactless payments and even keep a track of our money through online banking.

    But that doesn’t mean that offline services aren’t also used. Store fronts haven’t yet been fully replaced with online shopping; music records are making a comeback in certain demographics; and since the lockdown, we’re taking the time to appreciate life outside and offline more than ever. The world works in binary oppositions: dark and light, left and right, quantitative and qualitative, online and offline. They don’t work against each other, all opposites brings their own strengths and weaknesses, working in conjunction with each other to keep that necessary balance.

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    The digital and physical elements of the world are working together to provide the best experience possible for consumers, no matter what their tastes may be. And we should aim to do the same in market research.

    The digital and physical elements of the world are working together to provide the best experience possible for individuals, no matter what their tastes may be. And we should aim to do the same with market research, in the name of insight activation.

    Online Research and Digital Insights

    We have worked tirelessly to make the insights industry better through the integration of technology. With most research moved online, we have reached new heights of data collection and analysis through the many different methods that we’ve added over the last decade.

    While in-person data collection methods are still used, they present a variety of challenges. Geographical boundaries are one very real obstacle, the further your participant has to travel to participate, the more incentive they require. This ultimately has a very real impact on your budget, but moving research online means that this barrier is eliminated – we can recruit as many people as we need without having to factor in travel costs, which means there is more in the budget for other areas of the research process and we get the data we need.

    However, we haven’t built bridges over all obstacles researchers faced before online research became the main form of research. Crowd mentality for example, is not so easily beaten. When participating in an in-person group discussion, there will always be those who bow to popular opinion. One study states that the “beliefs we hold are strengthened when we are around others who hold similar views”, as if other people do it then it must be right, right? Moving research online somewhat diminishes this conformist tendency, but not as much as researchers might need. Moderation in the research task is needed to create a comfortable environment where people feel they can express their true feelings without feeling like that have conform and promote a social harmony.

    By moving research online we’ve gained access to a myriad of other research methods that we wouldn’t have been able to use as easily otherwise. Smartboards with heatmapping capabilities, the automation of data collection processes, dedicated online community platforms with gamified research techniques (think leader boards, discussion forums, and prize draw incentives) would have been harder to maintain without the use of technology.

    I don’t need to tell you that digital insights are the best thing that has happened to the market research industry. But the way we’re reporting insights doesn’t reflect the level of insights we’ve generated, and it certainly doesn’t reflect the innovative values of the insights professionals who work so hard to create the most actionable insights possible. So, we need to blend digital and physical, in order to create new reporting methods that fit the insights we provide.

    Creative Innovation in Physical Communications

    The written report has dominated stakeholder preferences for decades now, but why is that? What is it about numerical data that holds more authority than other iterations of insights? Whatever the reason, the written report is steadily losing the engagement of stakeholders, and more creative reporting techniques are popping up to take it’s place.

    I’m here to state the case for physical communications such as adverts, posters, infographics, and other image-based, tangible methods. Images take a lot less time to process, and can carry a lot more meaning in one second of observation than numerical data. Art and stories have been around for generations without losing the engagement of their audience; they are timeless aspects of society that portray important zeitgeists, multiple deeper themes, and a characterisation of important issues that all tell a vivid story for the audience within second of laying our eyes on it. The longer we look, the deeper the insight we get through interpretation.

    In this way, artworks physically capture the attention of the audience, and exist to tell this story, challenge beliefs, make those insights tangible more than numerical data ever could. We’re experimenting with this type of reporting in our Insight as Art campaign, creating unique works of art from insightful participants on particular brands. We’ve created so many postcards, some of which you can see here, and we haven’t even scratched the surface of the potential art has in insight reporting.

    Physical communications such as art and imagery, adverts (both digital and physical), and informational posters/graphics have all adapted to each evolution of society to best represent what captures their attention at the time. And that is exactly what research reports should do as well.

    Each stakeholder will react differently and have different requirements for what engages them personally. But creating reports to fit everyone doesn’t have to be a laborious task, as physical communications are all adaptable and appeal in their own way. These postcards are a starting point for important discussions, providing the insight that can then by explored further by stakeholders in workshops and meetings for as long as the insights stay relevant; we just need to provide a format that makes those insights stick in the minds of stakeholders until all of the insights are actioned upon.

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    With online research, we've greatly expanded our capacity for insight generation - but in our innovation efforts, we mustn't forget the power physical communication has to help us with insight activation.

    Best of Both Worlds

    Digital insights have proven to be more accurate and actionable, while physical communications are proving to be just as effective, if not more so, than lengthy written reports for insight activation at all levels of an organisation.

    With digital research, we’ve greatly expanded our capacity for insight generation – and we still have a long way to go before we’ve reached our full potential as an industry. However, in our search for more, we must remember the benefits of physical communication, that can occur in all stages of the research process to keep everyone informed as we go on, but especially so to capture everyone in our impactful findings, and drive stakeholders to take the right actions.

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