Let Go of What’s Precious and Focus on the Research Recommendations

Let Go of What’s Precious and Focus on the Research Recommendations

Think about the research results presentations you have seen in your career.  There’s a pretty standard flow to them, right?  They usually go something like this — starting with Objectives and ending with Research Recommendations, with a bunch of stuff in the middle:

  • Introduction
  • Business Question
  • Research Objectives
  • Methodology
  • Key Insights
  • Recommendations
  • Conclusion/Questions/Discussion

This story framework is very similar to the “CAR” format used in interviews.  It focuses on the context, actions, and results of the research.  It’s an easy way to tell a story.  Unfortunately, it emphasizes the wrong things.  Namely, this framework under-serves the research recommendations — which are most important part of all!

Why We Focus on What’s “Precious” and Not the Research Recommendations

In business, management rewards Marketing for growing the size of a product in-market.  They reward Sales for outstanding selling.  And they reward Research & Development for developing great new technologies.  Therefore, it’s only logical for new market researchers to assume that Market Research is rewarded for doing great research.

Although research is the majority of our day-to-day activity, Market Research Departments do not exist for the sake of research.  Market Research Departments exist for the sake of business consultancy and competitive advantage.  Unfortunately, this is easy to forget when you are down in the trenches.

Most of the hard work for the market researcher comes with selecting the perfect methodology, rigorously executing it, and sifting through piles of data.  Betting on the right methodology and reaping the fruits of it feels like something that should be recognized.  Doing the research is where the blood, sweat, and tears happen.  And believe me, all that data doesn’t analyze itself. It’s only fair to want a little credit for your hard-work right?

From the market researcher’s point of view, all this activity is the “precious” part.  In our internal narrative, it’s where WE are emotionally invested.  It’s also where we are undeniably the experts.  We OWN the Methodology and everything that led to it, and that is where WE add unique value to the organization.  Further, because we did SUCH a good job in the font half of the story, the research recommendations — the “what to go do” part — should be obvious to everyone.  Plus, it’s rarely our job to go do it.

As a result of this kind of thinking, we fall into the trap of emphasizing the parts of the story that matter to us and not our audience.

Those 2 Slides of Research Recommendations Tucked at the End of the Deck are Actually the Most Important Slides in the Deck

One of the great ironies of being a market researcher is that we spend all our time trying to understand what people want, but when it comes to our own deliverables we forget all our training. Ask your client, marketing partner, or merchant, what part of the story is most important to them, and they will answer, “The research recommendations.”  In fact, all that stuff we love, they probably find esoteric and boring.

As an example, once, when I was walking a Marketing Director through a draft of my research, he stopped me and said, “I can tell you did great stuff here.  I don’t understand it, but I can tell it’s brilliant.  But really, I don’t need you to tell me how the watch works.  I need you to tell me what time it is.”  This analogy really stuck with me.  It epitomizes the disconnect between what was precious to me as the presenter and what was important to my audience.

So How Can I Make the Research Recommendations the Star of the Show?

If you have served in the military, you are may be familiar with the acronym BLUF.  BLUF stands for “Bottom Line Up Front” and is a common approach in business communication.  As a market researcher, it feels uncomfortable and weird to base our deliverables on BLUF for three reasons:

  • It feels like you are ruining the “surprise” of the presentation.
  • You don’t take your audience on the same start-to-finish journey to get to the research recommendations that you did.
  • It reduces the time spent talking about the stuff that’s “precious” to us as a researcher.

Nonetheless, it’s really effective.  With practice, you will find that a BLUF approach to your presentation flow can actually get you more engagement and buy-in from your business partners faster.

If I were to re-write the presentation outline from above in the BLUF format, it could look like this:

  • Situation Overview
    • Formerly, Introduction/Business Question/Research Objectives
    • Condensed into 1 Paragraph or 1 Slide.
  • The 5 Things I Discovered Our Business Has to Do
    • Formerly, Research Recommendations.
    • 1 Slide reviewing all 5.
  • Why I Believe This to Be the Right Course of Action
    • Formerly, KeyInsights
    • 1 slide for each of the 5 research recommendations
    • Include only the hardest-hitting data from the research that supports each of the research recommendations.
  • Why I am Confident I am Right
    • Formerly, Methodology
    • Don’t go into great detail, just use as reassurance.
    • Example, “And these aren’t just my ideas . . . this is what (n=1000+) consumers told me in my X, Y, Z studies. . .
  • Re-Statement of Research Recommendations
    • 1 slide.
    • Formerly, Conclusion


I’ll be the first to admit that this post itself is not a great example of the “BLUF” style of writing.  I did sneak-in the main idea as the last sentence of the first paragraph though :-).  In conclusion, what I want you to take-away from this article is this:  Your audience cares most about the research recommendations, and you probably care most about the process that got you to them.  As a market researcher, focus on what your consumer wants.

Any BLUF (or blunt) reactions to this article?  Other thoughts on how to drive-home research recommendations?  Feel free to post them in the comments below.

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