Rock Your Research
Strike a Chord: Six Keys to Compelling Research

Brittany Johnston

What do your favorite songs all have in common?  For me, it’s the hook.  It’s what draws me in and keeps me humming all day long.  Suddenly, three seconds turns into 30 seconds, and 30 seconds turns into three minutes.  We want the same for our research.

Take a look at these 2017 chart toppers:

  • AI: 90% of Feds say AI could help prepare agencies for real-world cyber attacks, but just 21% are very comfortable with the idea today
  • Cloud: 70% believe that in 10 years, the majority of Federal agencies will rely on hybrid cloud environments for core applications
  • Security: Agencies are zeroing in on insider threats – 86% have a formal insider threat prevention program, up drastically from 55% in 2015

These hits don’t write themselves.  They all stem from thoughtful, carefully crafted research programs.

So how do we create the right research?  What steps can we take to ensure our studies go platinum?

After 10 years of designing and managing disruptive research programs for 300Brand clients, I’ve learned a few tricks for uncovering compelling insights and maximizing research investments.  Here’s how I make sure we rock our research every time:

Hit the Right Note.  You have to start with a research topic that’s timely, interesting, and applicable – to Feds and your company/partners.  To get there, ask yourself:  What is our team most interested in learning?  What issues are getting a lot of buzz right now, and can we target a unique angle for discussion?  Are there anniversaries/milestones coming up that we could tie into (i.e. OPM breach anniversary, compliance deadlines, FISMA scorecards, etc.)?  What are our customers struggling with?  What kind of data will be most compelling for them?  And, importantly, what conversation do we want to have with the market?

Bring in the Band.  Effective research goes far beyond the marketing department.  We like to begin with a Subject Matter Expert (SME) consult to understand how stakeholders are talking about the topic today.  We then meet with Sales leadership to understand the organization’s brand messages and discuss how we can potentially build on recent messaging and collateral.  Finally, we bring in a well-known government exec to illuminate the end-user perspective and direct us toward new, untapped focus areas.

Play the Hits.  The only way to produce an interesting, unique, and relevant report is to ask interesting, unique, and relevant questions.  First, you need to consider what research already exists – look for a gap in the market and/or know what giant’s shoulders you can stand upon.  My go-to set list:  Start with your core research questions, sprinkle in a few older Qs for year-over-year benchmarking, add some unanswered market queries from recent industry articles, and then get creative.  Some of our most popular studies survey two distinct viewpoints – doctors and patients, professors and students, agency IT managers and end users.  Uncovering gaps between these groups can expose interesting contradictions and ignite critical conversations.

Tell a Story.  Once you have the numbers, sit with them.  What are they telling you?  What’s the overall narrative?  I start with an initial 10-minute read, highlighting anything that makes me raise an eyebrow, and then go back for a deeper dive.  My goal is to find the tension in the data – this is the crux of any compelling story.  The final report should answer our research questions, emphasize the unexpected, and then outline the path forward.  And remember, two heads are always better than one – share the data in your team and ask for others’ observations and insights.

Add Pyrotechnics.  As we all know, the right graphical elements can say more than any amount of text.  So give your research some staying power by leveraging a talented creative department to illustrate key concepts, organize the data thematically, and draw your reader’s eye to the most significant stats and takeaways.  The goal is to make complicated data look and feel like common sense.

Don’t forget the Encore.  These reports are jam-packed with interesting statistics.  Not everyone will read through 15 slides, so be sure to repurpose and repackage your findings into bite-sized chunks.  One study can generate a wealth of assets for a campaign cycle – including tweets, social objects, infographics, blog posts, webinars, etc.  You spent the money, you made new discoveries, now maximize the investment and prolong your exposure.

Just like your favorite song, the right research should make your audience think, get stuck in their head, and leave them wanting more.

Want to learn more? Come to our next GovMark lunch and roundtable program – Rock Your Research – at the Tower Club on January 31st. We hope to see you there!

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