Insights engagement is a term that has grown in popularity over the past decade. As the role of data and knowledge in decision making have been bought to the forefront of company cultures, driven by an increasingly digital and measurable world, there has been something of an information overload. Broad models that have historically been responsible for estimations of marketing effectiveness are morphing into pinpoint accurate metrics that trade on little more than a few percentage points.
Marketers well know the volume and veracity that every customer engagement is measured with. In fact, it makes the age-old advice on choosing a single measure of success hard to follow. Even social media in isolation can be measured from the perspectives of reach, engagement, conversion to views and conversions to purchase. Which of these viewpoints is most valuable? There’s no single or easy answer to that question. And when such granular measurement is multiplied across channels, goals and activities – the sheer volume of data becomes overwhelming.
That poses a specific challenge to researchers. How do we cut through the noise to demonstrate the relevance and importance of our work? And how do we activate the insight that we provide? To activate insight is to ensure that it is a part of the decision-making process. But there is stiff competition for that privilege.
The Role of Online Platforms
Both I and the FlexMR team have explored a variety of solutions to this problem. We’ve dabbled with how to make the most effective use of video in stakeholder debriefs (to great success). We’ve turned qualitative conversations into literal works of art. I’ve even talked about adopting the principles of journalism as a tactic for successful reporting. But, as creative as those techniques are, they both share a common pitfall. As with most attempts to drive insights engagement – they only apply to the last stage of a research project; the report.
Ki Arnould Aguero eloquently described at MRMW North America, the way her team drive engagement at The Home Depot is to involve stakeholders at every stage of the project. Business decision makers cannot access the firm’s panel of research participants without first meeting with a member of the research team to discuss their objectives.
|To activate insights, stakeholders should be involved in research projects from the very start - not just once the data has been collected.|
For me, this perfectly encapsulates how to approach stakeholder engagement. It should not be an afterthought, or even a project stage that sits over halfway down a workflow. Instead it should be constant – interwoven throughout the entire lifecycle of a project. The more that decision makers can be involved in the process, the higher their level of investment in the outcome. And, it follows, the more attention will be paid to results. However, there is also a risk here; too much involvement or expectation can eat away at a decision maker’s available time and turn a tactic into a nuisance.
If we take the example of a research method that often takes place face-to-face – focus groups – it’s easy to see how stakeholders are involved. The balance is often struck by inviting them to observe the group in real-time, affecting and reacting to the participants and their discussions through an experienced moderator. But, I’d contest that online platforms actually offer a much better opportunity to encourage frequent involvement.
Controlled Platform Access
Similar to tactic of observing live focus groups, most online research platforms will offer varying levels of access. This is true for online communities, in-house survey panels, focus group tools, diaries and analytics platforms. The key is not which type of research being conducted, but the degree of access provided to stakeholders and the communication throughout the project. Ideally, effective online insights engagement programmes should follow four steps:
- The introduction: before the launch of any research, an initial meeting with stakeholders to discuss their project, goals and the level of platform access that will be provided. A brief overview of the platform mechanics can be shared and how to access live data as it is added
- Regular communication: whilst the project is running, stakeholders should be kept informed of how it is progressing. This might include the number of surveys completes, or key quotes from qualitative research. While it should not pre-empt eventual results, it should keep a pulse on important themes and developments.
- Immersion (optional): depending on the scope, scale and timelines of the project it may be possible to introduce an immersive stage where stakeholders are bought digitally face-to-face with participants in real-time. This helps decision makers get to know those answering their questions and build empathy for the results.
- Debrief: while a debriefing and reporting stage is typical in the research project lifecycle, if stakeholders have been exposed to the online platform and participants from whom the data was gathered – this stage should draw on an make full use of the empathy and experiences from stages two and three.
Sharing and Distribution
There is also a second benefit that online research platforms can offer. They can enhance the way in which insight is distributed and shared. Some platforms, like our InsightHub, enable reports and analyses to be shared directly as a web link – in addition to PDF, Excel and PowerPoint formats. This quick ease of access makes data accessible and interactive, encouraging stakeholders to explore the results themselves.
|Digital platforms offer two key ways to build stakeholder engagement: through immersion over the course of a project, and in the distribution of key information.|
Similar results can also be achieved through knowledge management platforms which act as a library of a firm’s research projects. By digitizing and storing results in such a system, researchers can make that data readily available, searchable and discoverable in the future
Ultimately, insights engagement will remain a core challenge for the foreseeable future. There are no easy answers, and building a culture of insight is a slow-moving process. While many firms have taken their first steps already, the evidence suggests there is a long way to go. However, by combining both analogue and digital solutions – we can start to make a real influence and drive the influence of insight, even in an increasingly competitive environment.