5 Steps to Improve Your Reports – Evolving From Tomes to Twitter

by | Sep 8, 2014 | Uncategorized

If you were born before 1980, this 50-plus-page wiro-bound document evokes nostalgic memories of our early-career market research reports (they also made great doorstops – the heavier, the better)!

For others, it may be revealing to learn that this is how experienced marketers grew up writing reports, and why so many otherwise talented individuals may struggle to deliver a research presentation for today’s audiences. There’s been what I refer to as a tomes-to-Twitter evolution that requires a mindset pivot many still haven’t made.

This epiphany hit me in 2010, and shortly after, we at Six Degrees embraced the infographic age and revolutionized our research-to-report process. It’s more like turning a 2-ton tanker than flipping a switch. It takes considerable time and effort to convince, educate and train on how to think differently. The payoff: tremendous. We started winning more competitive bids because of our differentiated reporting. Colleagues of clients called to say they saw a report we did, and have since requested that same “magic” for their upcoming project. In another case, a client took our report, shared it with a few peers and asked, “Why can’t our other vendors make reports look like this?!”

That’s powerful advocacy and a great business development boost.

So, whether you’re on the delivering or receiving end of research presentations, here are a few tips to step up your game. But first, some context to help with that “think different” shift.

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Social Killed the Sentence Star


How society communicates and consumes information has forever changed the landscape. Now more than ever, speed, brevity and smart design are what we have come to expect. Staying relevant in this new age of communications means taking a new approach to how you distill and visually package volumes of data into what really matters. The majority of communication is nonverbal, and information is much more quickly accessible (and more powerful) if it’s multisensory. And let’s be honest: People just don’t read anymore.

Five Steps to Transformation

1. Accept that “less is more.”
Researchers tend to be naturally curious creatures who revel in the journey of discovery. So when it comes to reporting, it’s hard to redirect that passion away from sequentially retelling the details. Moderators need to come to terms with the fact that while your interviews were lovely to listen to, they’re a means to an end. The end goal is to get to a higher place – inform a few discreet decisions. Read Chip and Dan Heath’s “Made to Stick” and take this lesson to heart: “… perfection is not when there’s nothing left to add, but when there’s nothing left to take away. You say 10 things, you say nothing.” If a picture is worth a thousand words, ditch the text for a cool graphic. Ideas should “pop” off the slide in three to five seconds. Don’t bury them in an unnecessary abundance of evidence. When you wipe out white space with TBU (true but useless) data and too many verbatims, that’s not being thorough or thoughtful. In fact, it’s rude. You’re not informing your client, you’re vomiting on them.

2. Future fast-forward.
Stephen Covey ingrained in us the simple truth, “Begin with end in mind.” Extraordinary reporting begins before you even start fielding. Imagine a movie scene in which the protagonist in a dire situation sees a rapid-fire replay of his past flash before his eyes. Aim for that kind of report revelation when finalizing the discussion guide. Think about how answers to questions will play out in the report.

3. Engage early.
I’ve heard this happens on the client side: You get the research firm’s report, and though the information is all there, you spend days to rework it into a presentable format. Here’s a suggestion for research firms: Have a report design discussion with your client and treat it like a concept testing assignment. Six Degrees draws from our projective technique playbook, scripts questions to get into our clients’ heads and uses visuals to clearly elicit what resonates and what doesn’t. We even come to research with early ideas and layouts to run by our clients.

4. Centrifuge.
Start with a one-page outline of the report and think about it in terms of the high-level story, not the sequence of the discussion guide. And then centrifuge. Our team gets together to talk through the report BEFORE diving into transcripts or analyzing data. We call out important takeaways, figure out the read-between-the-lines insights and brainstorm the visual layout. We leverage the creative expertise of our in-house graphic design department to add unique perspectives. If you don’t have these resources on staff, find a freelancer. Even a one- to two-hour “consult” can make a big difference.

5. Get out to get inspired.
A few years ago, this Wall Street Journal article on baseball got me to think about how to summarize findings for a vaccine study I was working on (the bat reminded me of a syringe around which I could organize a set of data). Then I attended an Ed Tufte seminar on presenting data. Now I find design inspiration everywhere I look – Fast Company magazine, art museums and toy stores. Do a Google search on infographics. Take a one-hour walk through a botanical garden. Stepping away enables you to step out and uncover novel ideas. I could go on with at least another five tips … but I’d like to hear about your ideas. Please comment on this blog post or email me the one key lesson you’ve learned about reporting and I’ll include the “best of” in a follow-up future post.

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Six Degrees
Six Degrees uses psycho-sensory tools and techniques to build more successful national and global brands. Brands are rooted in human perception. And our psycho-sensory approach is designed to identify deeper and richer insights from human perception and then develop brand communications that change suboptimal perceptions or reinforce the right perceptions. More than 80 percent of the information humans process is nonverbal, making it essential that brands manage the sensory signals they send out. Our people are passionate branding experts wielding powerful psycho-sensory tools to build stronger and more successful brands across the globe.

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