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Are you denying your clients their natural high?

Make sure your clients get to share in the 'dopamine hit' that comes with uncovering powerful insights that directly influence business strategy and execution. These truly 'a-ha' moments are rare so it's important to share them.

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Delivering insights to our clients is a moment of truth in our business. It’s exciting and immensely satisfying and, if we’ve done our job well, can deliver significant, long-term commercial value for the people we work with.

"... involving clients earlier and more often in the research process means they are more likely to take ownership of the insights that result and focus on trying to leverage them in their business."

I was reminded of this recently while attending the bi-annual Research Association of New Zealand (RANZ) conference and listening to a fascinating presentation from insights strategist Mark Buntzen of The Distillery. Mark’s thesis was that research agencies can be guilty of depriving clients of the ‘dopamine hit’ of uncovering insights. That is, we are so focused on delivering value (in the form of insights) to our clients that we often neglect to include them in the process and, as a result, they miss out on the excitement of helping to uncover those insights.

My own experience certainly confirms that there are many other benefits from involving clients more deeply in the research process, one of which is summed up by the old saying “Two minds are better than one” – that is, having more minds focused on the same problem increases the likelihood of discovering something significant. Clients also bring what I call a ‘watercooler’ view of the research data, the ability to connect it with their knowledge of the subtler, more nuanced aspects of their business – knowledge that only comes from being immersed in their business day in and day out.

Perhaps most importantly, involving clients earlier and more often in the research process means they are more likely to take ownership of the insights that result and focus on trying to leverage them in their business. Overall, it strengthens relationships between client and agency, based on a healthy degree of mutual respect. Mark urged research agencies to take more of a coaching role in the insights process, helping clients to arrive at an outcome, rather than managing the whole process themselves.

Technology is playing an increasingly important role in this co-creation approach to uncovering insights. Modern tools allow research data and visualizations to be shared and modified more easily between agency and client. Agencies can share findings and encourage clients to discuss and comment – even to dive into the data themselves and have a play! Agencies and clients can collaborate to investigate different views of the data, or try different ways of visualizing the data in an easy, iterative process. It’s an exciting way to ‘mainline’ the dopamine of insights.

Achieving 'Kodak moments'

In a similar vein, I also enjoyed a presentation from RANZ Fellow Murray Campbell of Baseline Consulting. Murray talked wistfully about the disappearance of ‘Kodak moments’ – that is, the good old days when you queued at the photo shop counter to collect your envelope of holiday snaps, enjoying the anticipation of seeing your photos for the first time. What would be revealed? Had you managed to capture the essence of experiences you enjoyed? Would there be any outstanding photos in amongst the inevitable dud shots? Would there be an otherwise fantastic photo ruined by that one friend who always manages to close his eyes at just the wrong moment?

Those days of anticipation are long gone. The rise of digital photography means we now get instant gratification when it comes to photos. Didn’t quite get the shot you wanted? Take it again (and again and again…). Colors don’t quite match your creative vision? Apply a filter. Someone (or something) unexpected in the photo? Cropping will take care of that.

Seeing life through a camera lens has become so easy and habitual that we are in danger of focusing so much on recording the experience that we forget to actually enjoy the experience in real life! There are of course lots of advantages to the immediacy of digital photography – but it’s also the thing that has killed the delicious thrill of anticipation and discovery that was such a compelling part of those ‘Kodak moments’.

"We need to work with our clients to co-create ‘Kodak moments’ of powerful insights, to ensure we share the ‘dopamine hit’ that comes with uncovering powerful insights that directly influence business strategy and execution. These truly ‘a-ha’ moments of powerful insights are rare and that makes it all the more important to share them when they happen!"

Similarly, in much the same way that we are drowning in an overflow of photos, are we in danger of being lost in the constant stream of data at our fingertips? Is there so much to look at that there is a real danger of missing the ‘a-ha’ insights because we can no longer see for all the looking?

Murray used it as a salutary reminder to the research sector to remain focused on our relevance, and not go the way of the failed camera film company. For me, the ‘Kodak moments’ analogy resonated as a cue about how powerful those moments can be for our clients. If they are the photographers, looking to record significant moments, we as the researchers are the ‘developers’ who bring technical skill to the task of delivering the outcome. We need to work with our clients to co-create ‘Kodak moments’ of powerful insights, to ensure we share the ‘dopamine hit’ that comes with uncovering powerful insights that directly influence business strategy and execution. These truly ‘a-ha’ moments of powerful insights are rare and that makes it all the more important to share them when they happen!

Again technology has a role to play, with tools available to help us sift through the large volumes of information and uncover trends and patterns that can support the insight process. The right platform can bring these together, align with other data points, and create dashboards that we can review together with our clients to uncover insights.

To extend the ‘Kodak moments’ analogy to breaking point, in this digital world we as researchers need to be able to produce the equivalent of the research photo album, a coherent collection of snapshots that when brought together help us and our clients tell a rich story.


This article first appeared in the Q4 December 2017 issue of InterVIEW magazine, published by the Research Association of New Zealand. Reprinted with permission.

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