How to be creative with research by Opinium’s Josh Glendinning

There’s a lot of surveys out there. Believe us, we know, because we conduct many of them. It’s increasingly difficult to elevate research above the noise of the hundreds of reports and polls released every week. When research for PR was less common, a throwaway “X% of the British public think Y” finding from an omnibus survey was probably sufficient, but not anymore. Journalists and the public are increasingly weary of, and cynical to, research issued by brands.

 But that’s no reason to give up on research (as you would expect us to say). In fact, new approaches and techniques offer opportunities for research to generate far more interesting stories and have a greater impact. All it takes is a bit of a creativity.

Get creative!

Great research for communications is just as creative as any other part of communications, whether an amazing stunt or a brilliant social media campaign.

 It’s about taking the tools at your disposal and making them work hard to produce a compelling and innovative story that captures imaginations and attention.

This is my first of two pieces where I will run through some of the best methods for generating great creative content from research. We hope this will inspire you with just how many research techniques are out there. Perhaps some of them aren’t right for your client at the moment, but hopefully this is a resource you can draw upon whenever you need it.

 1. Find a new tribe

In a diverse modern society, new subcultures and behaviours are emerging all the time. Whether it’s primary school whizz-kids who know more about technology than their parents, or grandparents addicted to dating sites. Some of these trends will remain niche while others are a sign of things to come.

 Defining a new tribe or tribes can be a great way to tell a story about how society is changing. Rather than hoping to find your needle in a haystack of a nationally representative opinion poll, your research agency can help you identify, target and research a tribe, enabling you to understand what they think, feel and do.

 Tribes enable a brand to own and lead a conversation by framing both conversation and decisions. As humans, we find it very difficult to address ourselves to a number or a trend, but once we’ve put a name and a face on something, these things become far more tangible.

 The most effective use of this kind of research approach is not finding a quirky subculture, but articulating how this new minority is likely to change the way the rest of us think and behave.

Those who follow politics will know how effective these tribes have been in framing both discussion and policy from governments of all stripes – from ‘Mondeo Man’ under New Labour to the ‘Just About Managings (JAMs)’ talked up by Theresa May.

 Key tips:

  • Catchy is crucial – having a witty acronym or alliterative moniker can be crucial for getting your new tribe over the line
  • Be specific – you need to be clear on the defining characteristics of your tribe whether background, behaviours or attitudes
  • Self-definition – consumers love to be able to apply research to themselves so try to build your story by explaining how you can tell if you’re one of the group
  • Don’t go too niche – while there are probably enough over 60s addicted to YouTube to research, we would if they had to be from the West Midlands
  • Remember to compare – asking the same questions to rest of the public will enable you to tell what’s truly distinctive about your tribe in particular

Some examples

Conservative JAMs

Telegraph ‘Ageless Generation’

Nurture Replenish Skincare ‘Women Ageing Gracefully’ (WAGs)

2. Give it a boost

Are you particularly keen to achieve coverage in the local press in Manchester? Do you want to be able to tell a separate story about the views of mums? Are you especially interested in the views of retailers of music and film? A boost can be a great way to add another layer to your story, or to create an entirely separate story angle from the same research.

 Boosting a sample simply means you will get a certain pre-specified number of people in a group or groups alongside your overall research sample. It’s a simple and cost effective way to make sure you get the data you need to construct the stories you want.

 Key tips:

  • Representative sample – even if you have a boost, you can still ensure the rest of your sample is representative, so you can still talk about e.g. “Brits”
  • Make it local – regional boosts are a great way to get cut-through with local media. We can guarantee sufficient sample in most cities to get topline numbers but the numbers will have to be higher if you want to look at any splits

3. Your audience’s audience

It’s always tempting to go directly to researching your end client – whether procurement managers, HR directors, or IFAs. But put yourself in their shoes: are they more interested in the views of people exactly like themselves or those of their key stakeholders?

 A great way to reach these audiences is to empower them with robust research about their own key audiences. You can provide actionable insight that will be engaging as well as enabling them to do their jobs better. For example, a survey of employee demands and attitudes across a certain industry could be invaluable for a HR director looking to make their benefits package more attractive.

 The same approach can work for consumer brands too. If you’re interested in promoting deodorant to young men, perhaps the views of young women are more likely to be of interest! Just think about it from the perspective of your audience and ask yourself: what would they really like to know and from who? (The added bonus of this approach is that reaching the audience of your audience is often far more cost-effective!)

Key tips::

  • Get the right people – try to do your research into the type of people you’re looking for so that you can be precise in your resulting insights and recommendations
  • Added insight – combining this kind of research alongside research of the target audience itself can help to give the story an extra dimension
  • Think like your audience – try to put yourself in the shoes of your target audience: if they had the opportunity to put a question to a sample their clients, what would they ask?
  • Be useful – presenting shocking findings can make for good headlines, but providing grounded and genuinely useful insights can be just as important

Some examples

Google / University of Illinois / University of Michigan – USB drive security

HSBC Trust in Technology report

Good Money Week ethical investment awareness

4. Pitching a research battle

We all know the classic battle of the sexes story that can fall out of your crossbreaks. However, rather than sending out your survey and hoping for the best, why not go out with the explicit intention of sewing discord?

 By researching two (or more) groups whose views are likely to clash, you can create a dynamic and newsworthy story, placing your brand or client as an even-handed umpire. This takes what might otherwise be a fairly static and bland headline and turns it into a dynamic and strong narrative. What’s more, this approach can work for any type of audience or client whether you’re comparing the views of different members of the C-suite, dog owners vs cat owners, or mums vs dads.

 Key tips

  • Repetition, repetition, repetition – in order to make the results comparable, you’ll need to ask at least some of the same questions
  • What do they say about each other? – you can also look at how the groups view each other, bringing out additional insight and conflict

Some examples

Firms split on who handles aftermath of cyber-attacks (BAE Systems)

What recruiters are really looking for in your CV: Infographic reveals expert tips on writing a job-winning application (Michael Page)

It’s true! Fathers are more likely to feed children junk food or a takeaway when their mother is away (Stanford University)