White Paper: Bringing Research to Life through Collaborative, Engaging, and Inspiring Workshops

White Paper: Bringing Research to Life through Collaborative, Engaging, and Inspiring Workshops

Typical market research reports and presentations often fail to connect with internal clients or inspire executives to take action.  According to cognitive learning theory, this disconnect occurs because people learn through “synthesis and evaluation” — internalizing the insights by using them — not through merely reading reports.  Sharing research findings via hands-on workshops is a solution to better engage clients and help them to internalize the research findings.  Whether conducted at the very beginning of a study (when the business objectives are being translated into research objectives), after data collection (as a springboard for framing the analysis), or after the report is finished (as a means to evangelize the findings within the client organization), workshops can vastly improve the actionability of the research results.  This paper includes background and case studies on research workshops, and is meant to be paired with D.I.Y. Insights Workshop Cards, also available as a free download.

Workshops: The Solution to Transforming Insights into Action

One of the biggest challenges for client-side market researchers is to utilize findings from research studies to command the attention of their internal clients and inspire company-wide action.  Because these findings are typically shared only as written reports or oral presentations (vehicles that do not coincide with how the brain learns best) many valuable insights can be lost in translation between the researcher and the audience.  Considerable academic research into the basic fundamentals of learning has revealed that ‘remembering and understanding’—the cognitive learning principle upon which  PowerPoint reports are based — provides the lowest and shallowest level of comprehension. 

Conversely ‘synthesis and evaluation’ (what typical report decks do not elicit from readers) assures the highest and deepest learning and comprehension.  The fact that the typical market research deliverable does not engage this highest learning principle means that a lot of critical information housed in report decks is overlooked or underutilized, at high risk of gathering dust on the shelf.

One effective solution to incorporating ‘synthesis and evaluation’ into research findings is to engage internal clients with in-person workshops.  These workshops are built upon tried-and-true brainstorming and creative techniques taught at the nation’s top design schools, including IIT’s Institute of Design and Stanford’s d.school, as well as major design consulting firms like IDEO.  In its most effective form, an insights workshop includes all the key stakeholders in the research, such as the marketing, product design, research and development, and customer service teams, and gives them a forum to discuss and digest the findings together.  In our preparation and in the workshop itself, we work with these stakeholders to distill the research down into the most salient findings, and then help stimulate their thinking toward what those findings can mean to their business. 

Transforming the research presentation from the typical lean-back experience of watching and listening into a lean-forward experience of discussing and doing helps the audience to better internalize the information and, ultimately, to act on it.

Based on our experience, we have found three key points in the research process when workshops can be most effective:

  • At the very beginning of a study, when the business objectives are being translated into research objectives
  • After data collection, as a springboard for framing the analysis
  • After the report is finished, as a means to better evangelize the findings

Workshops Before research Begins: Immersion

Conducting a workshop between the supplier teams and the client teams at the beginning of a project can help to gather input and gain buy-in from all major stakeholders in the research.  Such pre-study work sessions can also help to determine the direction and content of the project before any time or money has been spent.  The advantage of these workshops is that they are low-cost and time-efficient, and, because they are only for internal use, can be quite informal.  Finally, research suppliers can conduct these workshops internally, especially when client time is limited or unavailable, and deliver workshop summary decks documenting the session with photographs and brainstorm notes.

In an immersion, the goal is to thoroughly translate a project’s business objectives into the supplier’s methodology and instrumentation by having the supplier team members “walk as closely as possible in the consumer’s own shoes.”  Immersing the research team in the topic of study makes intuitive sense. Consider that prior to designing a questionnaire addressing iPad use, a researcher really needs to spend time engaging with an iPad.  This technique is especially helpful when testing a new technology or a longitudinal process (such as a shopper journey).

In a typical immersion, research team members each perform a topical assignment from the consumer’s perspective. Some examples include:  buying a DVD in-store for a project about the disc purchase process, signing up for a free trial subscription to Spotify for a study on digital music, or attending a local Twilight convention for a project on Twilight franchise fans.  Each supplier team member should document the assignment using photographs, screenshots, or a written journal and then present their experiences to each other in a workshop.  At the workshop, participants discuss positives, negatives, pain points, and opportunities uncovered by the immersion and end with a terrific starting point for a quantitative research questionnaire or qualitative research discussion guide.  The end-client should be invited to participate in this internal immersion process.  However, regardless of client participation, the research company will benefit greatly by gaining richer insight into the research topic. 

A PowerPoint deck highlighting the team’s immersion experiences can be submitted as an extra value-add deliverable for clients to help share initial insights and present the resulting questionnaire or discussion guide outline.

Case Study

An example of a pre-study workshop involves an immersion into the world of cell phones:  

In order to prepare for a project surrounding the cell phone purchase process, the six members of the Vital Findings research team each went shopping for a new cell phone.  Each person adopted the mindset of a regular consumer and engaged in the process exactly as they would have normally, whether that included conducting prior internet research, reading handset reviews, talking to salespeople, reading in-store signage, or other forms of preparation, but all actually purchased their new phones at a physical store rather than online in order to witness the sales process first-hand.  Luckily, different team members subscribed to different wireless carriers, were interested in different handsets, and were driven to purchase from different stores, so a variety of shopping experiences were naturally represented within the group without having to resort to specific assignments. 

The goal of this immersion process was to understand from the consumer’s perspective any pain points and opportunities in the typical cell phone buying experience, findings that were much discussed in the follow-up team workshop where each member shared his or her purchase experience.  What the team ultimately found was that this was a much more complicated purchase process than initially thought, particularly because wireless contracts prevent customers from buying a new phone whenever and from whomever they want.  The team also observed disparities in how different store types — for example, the Apple store vs. the AT&T store — handled consumers, a key piece of information that could be taken into account in the research. 

Because of this immersion process, the Vital Findings team was able to design the final study questionnaire to follow the path that an actual consumer would take when they purchased a cell phone and to include questions about steps in the process that they were not even aware of beforehand.  

Workshops Between Research Phases: Co-creation Workshops

Workshops conducted between stages of the research process can help the research team to summarize and synthesize mounting discoveries and apply them to the next phase of the project.  This is especially helpful on a project that follows exploratory qualitative research with a quantitative survey.  Rather than taking one of the more common approaches to qual/quant analysis, namely, divorcing the qual and quant portions completely or analyzing both datasets simultaneously at the end of the study — a post-qual, pre-quant workshop allows the project team to leverage insights gained in the qualitative phase into the design of the quantitative study. 

Such workshops are as much about knowledge sharing as they are about identifying low hanging fruit; participants can present their favorite qual respondents, pin illuminating respondent homework or photographs to the wall, and create lists or mind maps of key themes to stimulate further discussion and aid in analysis.  The end result is a list of potential attributes for survey design, a set of hypotheses, and a rough analytical framework that can be carried into the quant phase of the project as well as a document summarizing the most important qualitative insights while the research is still fresh.

Another example of a workshop technique designed to bridge research phases is a Co-Creation Workshop.  “Co-creation” is a term used to describe techniques for involving consumers as active participants in the analysis and synthesis of research data.  The technique is often used in exploratory design research, for example, designing a more ergonomic keyboard, where consumers can give real-time feedback on prototypes and suggest their own alternatives. 

Used in traditional market research, a co-creation session could be used after quantitative research has unearthed potential product opportunities that the client design team needs to understand more literally.  For example, if quantitative research reveals that consumers want packaging to be more informative, co-creation sessions with consumers could reveal deeper insights about what “informative” means with regard to packaging in the category, and provide an opportunity for marketers, researchers, and consumers to bring the concept of “informative” packaging to life by creating rough mock-ups.

In a similar way, a co-creation workshop can also bridge the gap between a quantitative phase and a qualitative ethnography phase. 

Case Study

The case study below illustrates how co-creation was used to bridge the gap between a quantitative tablet segmentation and ethnographies focused on product development for a specific high-opportunity segment.

A client had just finished a refresh for a tablet segmentation that had been used for years, and they discovered a brand new high-opportunity segment of working mothers.  The client needed to understand these mothers’ category needs and desired experiences in order to better develop products designed specifically with them in mind.  After the segmentation had been completed, but before undertaking an expensive multi-city ethnography project, Vital Findings conducted a one-day workshop to help inform the topics for qual discussion.  Six consumers who fit the new ‘working mothers’ segment were recruited to spend the day talking and working side-by-side with the client’s product planning and design teams. 

The day began with respondent introductions, and each consumer discussed how her tablet fit into her life, how she used it, any challenges she experienced, along with any opportunities she noted for future functionality.  Then, with that exercise in mind, the VF team partnered each respondent with a designer or researcher and had each pair co-create an ideal tablet for the working mother.  Different stations around the room allowed for the creation of different aspects of the device. Each pair made hand-held prototypes from foam core showing the preferred size and shape, drew what the screen should look like using pens and notecards, and made ‘mood’ collages showing what feelings and emotions they wanted the device to evoke. 

At the end of the exercise, the pairs presented their creations and a member of the research team recorded common themes and attributes.  Lastly, the respondents departed, and the research and design teams distilled those common themes into six key product opportunities to be explored further during the upcoming ethnographies.

Workshops after Research is Complete: Personas Workshops

The most obvious use for workshops comes after the research has been completed, when study conclusions need to be presented and disseminated.  Workshops conducted at this stage can really help to evangelize key findings throughout an organization, help internal decision makers consider what they could do or change based on the research, and promote action.  Personas — a common tool used by industrial designers — can be helpful bringing the research results to life by focusing on real consumers whose needs and desired benefits fit the research findings.

Segmentation studies are a great match for persona workshops.  A persona workshop can help marketers, product developers, and other business stakeholders fully understand and internalize the results of a segmentation study by turning the segments into real people.  These “real-people” personas can be based on respondents’ feedback from previously conducted qualitative research, or they can come from quick, in-depth interviews done expressly for the workshop.  For each segment uncovered in the segmentation, the research team creates a profile of an individual respondent that stands out as a typical member of that segment (for lack of a better word, a “stereotype” of the segment), highlighting their likes, dislikes, lifestyle, and attitudes toward the category.  During the workshop, each persona is presented to participants using photos, quotes, video, real-life objects, and any other visual aids that help to tell the story.  Instead of simply presenting the typical graphs and tables of segment-related numerical data, tying segments to defined, real-life individuals in this way makes it much easier for internal clients to understand and connect with their consumers and provides deep, rich data to inspire brainstorming and product development.

It is much easier, for example, to design a new product aimed at John, a 27-year-old Apple fan who uses his Mac and iPhone to record music and share it with all of the new friends he meets at rock concerts, than to design one for an amorphous segment called ‘social connectors’.  Exercises during the workshop help to inspire new ideas surrounding each segment.  One potential exercise is to choose one segment, split participants into teams, have each team brainstorm needs and product opportunities for one specific persona within that segment, and then present their findings to the group.  This approach allows for the needs of one key consumer segment to be addressed from several different team perspectives using several different representative personas.  After all the teams’ new product ideas have been shared, participants vote for their favorites, and the end result is not only a list of potential concepts for future product development, but also the successful demonstration to the client that the segmentation can lead to concrete action.

Persona workshops can also be helpful in developing strategies for marketing to, and reaching your target consumer.  For example, it can be difficult for companies to line up their current product offerings or product roadmap with a new segmentation.  This is often done as an intuitive exercise by the product manager, with the research report serving as an imprecise guide.  A better way to match up the segmentation with the product roadmap is to use segment personas.  For example, we can think again about John, the 27-year-old Apple fan who uses his Mac and iPhone to record music and share it with all of the new friends he meets at rock concerts, whose attitudes and behaviors are representative of a “social connectors” segment.  It’s much easier to answer product questions about “John” than about “social connectors”: Where does John listen to music?  Who does he share it with?  Why does he share?  Which of our products does he use, if any?  What could get him to try our brand?

Case Study

A music headphone segmentation provides a good example of using a persona workshop in this way: 

In this case, a client had just finished a quantitative segmentation, and had identified one target consumer they were particularly interested in based on their high share of spend in the category and influence on other consumers.  The senior management team was pleased with this focus, but the product team was having a difficult time envisioning how the segmentation fit with their product roadmap.  Luckily, the client had done exploratory ethnographies before the quantitative research, and reached back to that data to identify respondents who fit the characteristics of the new segment.  Using photos, video, diaries and collages from the ethnographies, they created three personas, each representing the high-opportunity segment in different ways.  The client then set up a persona workshop with the researchers, marketers, and product managers in the business unit. 

The group was split into cross-functional teams, and each team was given one of the personas.  Each team’s first assignment was to come up with two scenarios for how their persona uses headphones, answering questions such as: Describe the occasions. Who’s participating? What music are they listening to? Where? What role is music playing in the occasion? Why are they using headphones?  This first exercise helped the teams gain a nuanced appreciation for their persona.

Next, the teams were asked to layer products from the roadmap onto the persona and the scenarios they had created.  They were asked questions like: Which of our roadmap products is going to be most interesting to your persona, and why? Write 2-3 bullet points that would be the most effective way to “Pitch this product” directly to your persona. What benefits will be motivating for him or her? 

After each team had finished, they each presented their persona, scenarios, and product roadmap implications to the full group.  While listening to other teams present, participants were asked to write down on post-its their key takeaways from the presentation. When all teams had finished presenting, participants layered their post-its on the persona posters, clustering them by theme.  At the end of the workshop, the group discussed similarities and differences in how each team assigned products from the roadmap, and agreed on which assignments made the most sense.  While the workshop had been scheduled primarily for the product management group, all participants felt that the exercises had given them a new, deeper understanding of the high-priority segment consumer.

 How to Get Started? The One-hour Key Findings Workshop:

The examples in this paper demonstrate the range and versatility of insights workshops, but can seem intimidating.  We think this is such a terrific tool for turning insights into action that we’ve developed a methodology for a one-hour workshop, one that you can get started with right away: the Key Findings Workshop.

Workshops that focus on presenting key findings allow for supply-side and client-side teams to work together to distill insight and draw implications from the research findings.  The easiest method of preparation for one of these workshops is to cut and paste all of the headlines from each slide of the final PowerPoint report into a word processing document, edit down the text so that only the key findings are represented, and then print out the statements onto individual index cards or slips of paper.  These sets of key findings can then be handed out to workshop participants for discussion.

Ideally, before the workshop, each participant has read the report and singled out their personal key takeaways.  Since this is not always possible, at the beginning of the workshop, participants first listen to a brief summary of the thought behind the key findings, led by the supplier research team.  Each workshop participant should have a stack of the findings note cards in front of them, which they prioritize and order according to how important they are to the business.  Each participant then presents their top three to five most important statements, pinning the slips of paper to a bulletin board. 

Successive presenters cluster their top choices alongside those already on the board, and then the entire group spends half an hour discussing the clusters encompassing the most slips of paper (the most mentioned clusters), brainstorming implications around each.  The results from this type of workshop can be combined with a shortened version of the executive summary from the final research report to create one cohesive document outlining the most salient key findings and their implications for the business, an invaluable aid in executive decision-making.

Conclusion and Call to Action

There is nothing more empowering in market research than seeing the results of your research acted upon. However, our main communication tool ­— the final report — rarely stimulates action.  While reports will always be our main deliverable, more and more executives are judging our work based on the action it delivers — not the volume or length of our reports.  Presentations help, but still do not fall in the “synthesis and evaluation” cognitive mindset that experts view as key to learning.  Workshops are already being widely used by design strategy firms, management consultants, and branding agencies, and can help market researchers vastly improve how actionable research deliverables ultimately become, and help all of our key stakeholders view research in a new and much more dynamic way.

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