Your carefully constructed survey is out of field, and you’ve completed your data analysis. The last step in completing your market research project is to prepare the report. Your report can be written and/or oral and should detail the research process, results, and recommendations or conclusions tailored to a specific audience. This may mean developing several reports that highlight the information most important to each invested stakeholder group.
The report represents the tangible conclusion and historical record of the research effort and will be the guide for management decision making. An uninteresting, uninspiring, or poorly composed report reflects negatively on the overall research project— regardless of how important and insightful the results. Therefore, it is another critical piece of the overall project that cannot be overlooked. It is your responsibility as the researcher to ensure your research outcome is given the exposure it deserves. After all, you worked very hard up to this point and want the findings you’ve learned to make an impact at your company!
What? So What? (The Executive Summary)
If we lived in an ideal world, all stakeholders would have ample time to fully read and digest your written report from cover to cover. They’d carefully review any background information and secondary research you investigated, the methodology including the types of questions chosen and sampling techniques, the data analysis and statistical methods used, and analyze all your carefully created charts and graphs.
Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world, and business mangers and decision makers have increasingly less and less time to dig deeper than the surface. That is why your Executive Summary is so important. You should write the Executive Summary last, but it should appear near the beginning of your report and be easily found by the reader. The Executive Summary should concisely describe the business problem, approach to the problem, and research design, in additional to the major results and, possibly, conclusions. Focus on the most interesting and impactful findings in this section. Use tools like bullet points to help get to the point quickly and exclude providing numbers, percentages, and graphics. Instead of writing, “62% of mothers with kids aged 2-5 expressed interest in purchasing the new product concept shown here [CONCEPT IMAGE]”, provide a succinct summary of the key learnings and implications:
- Animated excitement during focus groups among mothers and their 2-5 year olds
- Concept testing revealed post-price decline in purchase interest
- Verbatims explain product benefits don’t warrant high price
- Current product concept does not meet threshold for launch
Now What? (Conclusions & Recommendations)
The “So What?” from above (Current product concept does not meet threshold for launch) is an informed business conclusion based on the research findings, or the “What?”. In the Conclusions and Recommendations section of your report – the “Now What?” – the first statement is likely your most important recommendation that business decision makers need to know.
- R&D should revisit product benefits and test alternatives
This section may contain numbers/percentages, but they should be kept to a minimum: in this example, the percent of mothers who express purchase interest pre- and post-price in the quantitative concept testing would be appropriate to include. Both the conclusions and the recommendations can be written in a bulleted format, and you may wish to add sub-bullets or paragraphs that provide further explanation. The supporting information that you used to arrive at the recommendations should be clear to the reader (are you basing the recommendation off of a single study, a qual/quant project, a longitudinal study, a single study + secondary research, etc.?) And of course, the recommendations should reflect the objectives of the research, relate to a particular decision that needs to be made, and be realistically actionable. While there are probably a lot of “interesting” learnings from your research study, unless they are imperative to the business objectives and decisions, they should be left for another section of the report (such as the appendix) so they do not distract from the key findings and recommendations.
Keep Your Report Alive
Once you’ve shared your report with key stakeholders or made a live presentation, you don’t want your hard work to be forgotten. Many companies have research databases or libraries where reports can be accessed long after they’ve been finalized. Be sure to foster a working relationship with your client or stakeholders from the beginning and check in after project completion to see how they evaluated the results and what business impact(s) the research may have made. By doing so, you’re also tactfully reminding them of the research and encouraging them to utilize the recommendations. You can also propose to do additional research as necessary to test new hypothesis or alternative courses of action.
Market research plays a vital role in your company and is the foundation upon which many business decisions are made. Its influence is directly linked with how strongly it relates to these business decisions; how new, insightful, or compelling the results are; how realistic and actionable the recommendations are; and how well the findings are communicated. As a researcher, you should utilize the advantageous opportunity to influence business decisions by ensuring the research insights and recommendations are not only strongly and clearly stated, but widely spread throughout the company to maximize impact. When in doubt, start by identifying the “What?”, the “So What?”, and the “Now What?”.
What? – key research Findings
So What? – key Conclusions
Now What? – key Recommendations