98% of DevCom’s research studies led to a strategy or action: The practical use of research for results

By DevCom founder and CEO, Mari Lee  |  Edited by Laura Potgieter |  14 June 2023

DevCom is home to certified communication professionals that place analysis as a principle foremost in strategic communication consulting. We have religiously conducted baseline and measurement research for all our communication projects. We have conducted more than 210 communication-based research studies over nearly two decades. During 2022, we did research about the impact of our research. It indicated that 98% of our research studies led to a strategy or action plan and it showed that 100% of our participating clients achieved some form of increased business results.

Although there is excellent awareness from all in business that data-based decision-making is essential, and surveys are seen as the main way to gain information from stakeholders, DevCom has learned that qualitative research, answering the why questions, are a powerful tool. Tight budgets and time pressure are always reasons to not do research. The results of our clients, when they do inform their decisions, strategies and action plans with data insights focusing understanding of audiences, are telling.

In our evaluation, our clients reported these results after research-informed communication strategies were implemented:

  • 90% reported an improved tone of voice
  • 70% reported an improved internal marketing/communication process
  • 50% reported improved stakeholder/community relations
  • 50% reported improved sales
  • 50% reported improved internal integration
  • 50% reported an improved market share
  • 40% reported improved employee engagement
  • 40% reported improved customer service results
  • 40% reported improved brand visibility
  • 30% reported decreased risk measurements
  • 30% reported an improved share of voice
  • 30% reported an improved reputation
  • 20% reported an improved AVE (always measured with tone and share of voice, as per Global Standard)

How can you use research in your business, learning from our two decades of experience? The main innovations DevCom has built into our research process over the years are plenty fold, but these ones will assist you most!

  1. Use visuals and narratives to connect with the emotional language of the audience

Many communities and employee members that we survey do not read or speak English. In South Africa, there are 11 official languages. Our education system is severely compromised, and blue-collar workers on the shop floor and traditional community audiences can often not read and/or write. The recruitment and use of local facilitators to speak vernacular is essential. Translation is a critical skill, as reporting happens in English. Visuals and story narratives make this process easier. This prompted us to use visuals and storytelling in our research, and qualitative content analysis to code and analyse the research results, providing deep understanding; visuals communicate nuances powerfully.

  1. Why? Research answers specific business questions and inform decisions and messages

Most of our clients indicated that their understanding of how to use research (and not just file the report in file 13), has increased since partnering with DevCom. We measure the effectiveness of communication strategies to refine and optimise our approaches based on data-driven insights. Research empowers decision makers to consistently assess the impact of our communication initiatives, and its impact in the business. This gives us a deeper understanding of target audiences, their cultural nuances, and the communication channels that resonate with them. In turn, our formula ensures that we create engaging and culturally sensitive messaging and campaigns with tangible results that reach and connect with diverse communities. When you have to choose between numbers (quantitative research) and the story (qualitative research) always choose the story, as it will tell you why. Don’t worry too much about the sample size. See if you find the same narrative in a number of different audiences. The quality of the narrative is more important the size of the study. Is there a repetitive pattern, and what does it explain to me about my decision.

"Most recently, the quantitative data said a big yes in terms of making a business decision. The qualitative data gave us many things we needed to consider from a holistic customer and brand perspective."

Address the three major stumbling blocks in the research process: not knowing what success looks like, what the data will be used for, and what will change once we have the data. The research process we have innovated starts with the correct framing of the research. When we begin the research process, we answer these three (magic) questions:

  1. This will be successful if? This question frames the research towards an outcome objective and emphasises the actual business issues that need to be understood.
  2. What will we do with this data? We have found that many questions are often included in the research, which would not necessarily lead to insights and actions that will change something in the business or relationship after the research. The question serves as a filter for each research tool and every data point in the research, as well as our ‘what-if planning’ which we undertake with customers to map their requirements – ‘If the answer is this, what will you do? If the answer is that, what will you do?’ These guides us to prioritise our data collection – which data we collect first, and it allows us to prepare the client to take definitive action when the results are in.
  3. If this research is done, and the action plan is implemented, what will change for the business or the participants when the research is done? This question focuses on the elements we want to understand to make the research actionable. Asking this question also focuses on the outcome for the business but more on the feedback and tangible outcome for the participants. From our experience, many companies do research or surveys and never do something with it. We don’t want that to happen to any of our research studies, and therefore we set up the study as the first step of a process and focus on the full process from the word go.

Research does not have to be complicated, expensive, or extensive to deliver practical results you can use in decision-making. You can do it in-house (just without the online survey, please), you can do it formally and informally, and you can do it with meaning and intent. Be curious, and find the answers with your people, and put them to good use for excellent business results.