Editor’s note: Michael Callero is founder, The Big Blue Crayon, Minneapolis. 

When I was a child, every Thanksgiving my family would prepare a huge meal that included all the usual dishes that you’d expect at most holiday tables. We had turkey, gravy, stuffing, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes. And then there was a lone bowl of cranberry sauce. That singular dish of cranberry sauce would end up sitting in the fridge for a week or so after Thanksgiving, ignored. This happened each year without fail. We’d purchase the ingredients, prepare the dish, serve it, store it and then throw it away, unused. One year I asked my mom, why do you bother to make cranberry sauce if nobody eats it? She didn’t hesitate with her answer: “Because we’re supposed to.”

Too often companies treat market research like cranberry sauce. It’s done because we’re supposed to do it, but it has no impact on our decisions. We spend millions on intelligence that is analytically elegant, leverages the latest techniques and involves countless data interrogations. It’s often great research. And we do it because we know we’re supposed to. But then we set it aside for a while and eventually we throw it away – only to repeat the process again next time.

In my experience, there’s one primary reason so much market research goes unused. Those conducting the research don’t know how to translate its implications for those making the decisions. They are speaking two different languages. The researchers can’t speak decider, and the deciders can’t speak researcher. 

Some deciders have argued that research needs to be simpler. They’re wrong, and sort of right. The solution isn’t to simplify the research itself. The research should be as complicated as it needs to be. Some of the most powerful insights require complicated analysis. No, it’s not the research that we need to simplify. It’s the communication.

The entire point of ...