Editor’s note: Kory Grushka is the founder of Stories Company, a Pennsauken, N.J.-based B2B-focused creative agency. 

Research and insights have always been essential for companies to build their brands, differentiate from competitors and drive innovation. That said, things are changing in our industry and everyone knows it. The large research vendor business model is being disrupted by new SaaS competitors, different industries encroaching on MR’s turf, new methodologies, lower pricing and much easier access to consumers. 

Layered on top of this is the fact that research and insights as a corporate function is also transitioning. With the rise of big data and the explosion of data sources and analytical tools, Fortune 1000 companies (and others) are rethinking their research and data capabilities, as well as the structural foundations. 

Change creates opportunity

Research and insights is clearly at a crossroads and is being disrupted. While disruption creates precariousness, it also creates opportunity. Research and insights is positioned to be a core gatekeeping business unit for data distribution to the broader organization – and it will be imperative to deliver data and insights in highly contextualized and actionable ways. The most critical aspect of our work will be not just to inform with data, or even to provoke, but to inspire. Our data must be delivered with hierarchy and priority, and our insights must tell stories that cannot be ignored.

To tell better stories, we have to better understand and optimize the key media formats we use to share our findings. Here are three ways that brands and vendors can think differently about media to tell better stories.

1. A different way to think about video

Brand stewards should consider how different video formats are calibrated to the nature of the research and the message. Two relevant formats at opposite ends of the spectrum are movie trailers and documentaries. The format you use will depend on the type of message being delivered. For instance, if your message is selling, and you are selling research, insights, sales/marketing plans or other work product, you likely want to inspire action and thus a movie trailer-style might be preferred. Short (two minutes or less), faster editing with more cuts, music with a more pronounced beat and much less data, numbers and text. Alternatively, if you are sharing research or findings and trying to inform rather than inspire, a documentary-style approach would likely be optimal. That would be longer form (two-to-five minutes+), featuring animated infographics with an agenda to educate.

On a separate note, when it comes to video to support research or strategy work, brand stewards should consider quality over quantity. Video can be a catalyst for inspiration and can change the perceptions of key stakeholders. However, video that compels action is often very thoughtful, well produced and generally not inexpensive. The takeaway here is to rethink your budget, prioritizing video for projects or studies that are the most imperative, and potentially scaling back video or eliminating it for projects that are of less consequence. For instance, if you are budgeting for videos for five research studies over a six-month period, consider focusing your video budget to deliver fewer higher-impact videos.  

Finally, one underutilized and low-cost/high-impact video strategy is featuring video clips of actual consumer sessions. One method is to use short one-to-two minute excerpts at a time (with multiple consumer statements featured), for the purpose of bolstering key points, raising dilemmas or problems to solve. Your research vendors should be able to capture and catalog videos of qualitative sessions. While that will come with some incremental cost, it should not be substantial or burdensome. And moreover, reviewing and curating these video captures is a task that can be delegated to the most junior members of your team, if not even interns. Senior management loves seeing consumer reactions and feedback, and this relatively simple tool will go a long way toward delivering video that is truly must-see content.

2. Rethink your presentations. 

Many presentations have narrative structures that focus on the research process rather than the objectives of the research. Clearly, there are times where we have no choice but to orient with the process. The preferable approach in most cases should be to orient based on the objectives, where one or more calls to action or key insights are front and center. 

When the research process is front and center, for instance, a deck might have a table of contents, a few key insights on one slide and then multiple pages with dense data for each of many (many) survey questions. In contrast, a deck that has an objective-based narrative structure will deeply outline the few key objectives and the insights/solutions that are adjacent to and support these objectives. A well-crafted objective-based deck will organize and curate the data to support the points as succinctly and structurally as possible.

One issue with this observation is that crafting a deck around objectives or insights requires time, high-level strategic thinking and curation. With shrinking research budgets and ever tighter timelines, it may not be feasible to deliver a fully vetted objective-based narrative structure. In those instances, vendors might deliver process-based decks with a brief executive summary that outlines the objectives and briefly states what key insights are responsive to them. In that case, brand owners should seek out, and pay for if needed, a full executive summary (with more support and analysis around the key objectives). 

While a full-blown objective-based deck may not be achievable given timeline and budget constraints, brand owners should obtain as much analysis and support for key insights as possible. Process-oriented data dumps are optimally delivered in the appendix, and in any case should be secondary supporting information.

3. Consider experiences. 

In addition to presentations and videos, experiences are the other main distribution channel for research/insights to be delivered to an organization. While the share-out events for insights socialization are critically important, insights professionals often little attention to both experience and audience profiles. Research and insights leaders should look to experiment and improve in both of these areas, with purpose, in order to really maximize the learnings and organizational attention. 

In terms of experience, new and interesting formats should be explored, whether styles of presentation, event formats or otherwise. Brands might consider having actors pose as target consumer segments, or feature well curated and articulate, charismatic target consumers. New event formats should be explored, such as live, “fishbowl” style events, in which consumers sit on a panel in real time, surrounded by business people, then have the audience and speakers swap places periodically. Rather than hosting just one or two events, consider holding just one larger event together with an event series that is optimized for audience interaction and participation, inviting different constituencies.

And separately, in terms of the audience, research and insights professionals make a living segmenting and understanding consumers. We get granular about consumer desires and expectations. Unfortunately, when it comes to telling our stories, we often neglect the consumers of our work. As they say, the cobbler’s children have no shoes. Often, different research socialization events have different audiences. All events should be developed with the unique audiences and goals in mind. Whether marketing, senior management, strategy/insights, sales or other constituencies, each event should be formatted with experiences calibrated based on the motivations and level of understanding of each audience.  

As the research and insights industry continues to be challenged by new technology, new competitors, disruptive business models and changing consumer habits, I believe it will change in profound ways. We must all become better at communicating, positioning and ultimately selling our work. And to do so, we must optimize the media formats that these deliverables come in.