I call my approach to research "research with a soul": objective and empathetic. Research is one of my passions, and I try to bring that passion—and compassion—to every project. I truly care about our clients, and I'm as excited as they are when they use research findings to transform their businesses and achieve their goals.
What don’t I love about research? Giving my clients negative research results.
I’ve had to deliver negative research results many times during my career. More than once, a client has told me, “I don’t like the findings” when I’ve presented findings that, at best, expose a few weaknesses in their strategy or at worst, confirm their most dreaded fears.
Even though the ancient Greeks developed the concept of “don’t shoot the messenger,” the reality is, the Athenians and Spartans did, in fact, kill messengers. Today, we still kill the messenger figuratively when they deliver bad news—by disliking the messenger. As a professional in a client-driven industry, being disliked is the last thing I want, especially when research is just the beginning of a longer engagement that includes developing and implementing marketing strategies.
So how do I present negative research results and maintain strong relationships with clients? Here are a few lessons I’ve learned:
- Emphasize good intentions. We certainly mean no harm by delivering research results that clients may not want to hear. At LMD, our goal is to help our clients succeed—always.
- Highlight the positives. Very rarely do research reports only have bad news. In fact, findings are usually far more favorable than unfavorable. By leading with the positives, we reinforce to the client what’s going right with their business and the decisions they’ve made.
- Don’t sugarcoat the negatives. At the same time, our clients pay for and deserve to know what the reality is—and that reality is based on high-quality research that was thoughtfully planned, implemented, analyzed, and reported. Sharing the news honestly and without hesitation shows that LMD can be trusted to tell them what they need to know.
- Show empathy. When a client feels deflated by research results, we let them know that we totally get it: bad news is hard to swallow. Acknowledging and honoring their feelings of disappointment shows that we are listening, we care, and we understand.
- Focus on the path ahead. After the client has had a chance to digest the results, we move quickly to taking action. We help the client identify what can be done, how, and when. The solutions that have the greatest impact on the most people and can be done quickly should take the highest priority. And because LMD is a full-service agency, we can provide a seamless transition from presenting the research results to strategic planning and implementation.
The honesty and objectivity of research is a double-edged sword: the insight you gain from learning what your customers really think about your brand or business can be invaluable—but those insights are delivered “warts and all.” However, warts aren’t a fatal diagnosis. In terms of marketing, they can be remedied with a stronger brand identity, clearer messaging, more targeted outreach, or any number of other strategies and tactics.
Want to conduct a research project or need help developing a research-informed strategic plan? Contact LMD.