Short and Sweet Analysis Needn’t Be Short on Value

The lead item on the November 13, Marketing Insider offers perspective on finding an appropriate balance between simplified data visualization and comprehensive research analysis. 

Sports marketing analysts are in a bit of a predicament. We pride ourselves on an ability to dive deeply into data and find nuance beyond basic descriptive statistics. But at the same time, we operate within a soundbyte-driven society that has spawned a trend toward infographic-laden one-page summaries that run the risk of our not showing enough value or the rich depth of findings derived through comprehensive research.

Why, then is it a surprise when time-deprived client managers pass these cartoon summaries along to a subsequently underwhelmed senior management, who then question: “Why did we spend so much money on this?  Next time just let an intern post a survey on a DIY tool and move on.”

How do we strike that balance in communicating research results?

We have been maligned as an industry that we are too detail oriented and academic and can’t draw succinct conclusions — but when we aim for that, we are knocked for not being thorough enough. We’re being pushed to showcase the results with the rigor of a researcher, the client-speak of a marketer, and the strategic direction of a management consultant.

But the answer lies in both embracing the move towards succinct data visualization while also bucking the trend. For years, I’ve advocated having the courage to go beyond just reporting of “findings” to providing actionable implications. Rather than look over our shoulders and fear obsolescence at the hands of DIY and automation-enabled substitutes, we can look forward to the management consultants where we become a competitive value proposition.

Provide the infographic-enhanced 20-second takeaways upfront, that can be packaged into the executive summary.  But don’t overlook the rigor in an appendix or detailed discussion of findings that follow. Call out not just what the data says, but what it means, what it implies, and why those implications are important for the client to consider.

Pose additional questions, suggested by the findings, that beg for the client to insert the pragmatic realities of the business needed to take that next step towards actionable solutions.  Take the extra step to “research” the strategic context and incorporate it into the recommendations.

Armed with that information, we can become more than data dumpers and morph into strategic resources.  Like good management consultants, we (especially the qualitative folks among us), know how to ask good and probing questions of our clients

Note that I didn’t say “answers” in the previous sentence.  Unless implicitly stated as a project objective, we shouldn’t let a hesitance to arrive at a possibly incorrect definitive answer, impede our willingness to engage clients in thoughtful strategic conversation.

That’s the kind of value-add that can earn our keep and hold at bay, the dumbed-down alternatives that risk undermining marketing research in sports and other disciplines.