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3 ways to avoid the dreaded “unsurprisingly…” in research debriefs

September 2nd, 2021

How many times have you either sat through – or had to deliver – a market research debrief where the phrase “unsurprisingly” seemed to crop up rather too often? Or perhaps the alternative phrases “as expected” or “as predicted” were occasionally used in order to provide a bit of variety?

While some projects simply require validation – of, for example a long-standing trend in behaviour in a particular sector - research is, for the most part, commissioned so that clients can discover NEW information and insights. So how can we best go about telling clients something new?

THINK BROADLY: First, in the research design stage, researchers must think broadly. For example, in a recent project, in trying to fully understand consumer behaviour, we took the view that attitudes towards the product in question might not be the ONLY potential driver of behaviour. In particular, we considered the possibility that inherent personality traits might be playing a role. In the research, we discovered they were, with one trait – propensity for regret – being especially influential.

BE BRAVE: Second, and also in the design stage, it takes bravery from both researcher and client to think outside the box and experiment with new approaches. In the example above, we were fortunate that the client was happy for us to consider an additional, alternative angle in our research design – and ultimately, they were rewarded with new, enlightening, fresh insights. While it is perhaps easier for agencies to be brave with clients they already know, equally a fresh new approach might be just what a client is looking for.

BEWARE CONFIRMATION BIAS: Finally, in both design and analysis stages, researchers need to be very careful they’re not simply just looking out for information to confirm what they already know or believe. This can be especially difficult in qualitative research, where interpretation of research findings to fit existing beliefs or patterns can easily be done without conscious awareness.

If you’re a researcher, the three tips above can help ensure you don’t end up with a debrief containing the phrases “unsurprisingly”, “as expected” or “as expected”. For buyers wanting to find out new information and insights in research debriefs, also think broadly, be brave – and look for evidence your agency is doing the three things above.

Chris Harvey
Founder, Activate Research