Insight’s secret weapon: synthesis (it’s sexier than you think)

In my time on the client side one of the things we never did enough of was synthesise existing insight – despite the fact it could have saved us time and money in the long run. I think the client side environment often isn’t conducive to synthesis – we work in noisy, open-plan offices with constant interruptions, new priorities appearing regularly and pressure to keep our stakeholders engaged – often the last thing we can afford to do is lock ourselves away for a couple of days wading through past research.

Here at Insight Angels we love a bit of synthesis and actually think it can be sexy (ok, maybe we need to get out more!).  Here are a few things that have really worked for us - we’d love to hear what works for you too.

1. Synthesise with a purpose

The more specific, forward-looking and targeted the better. Quite good: 'create a set of tips based on customer feedback to optimise future marketing emails'. Not so good: 'bring everybody up to speed with what we know about new customers' (why? what are they going to do next?)

2. Be clear on the benefit

Spending time on synthesis is less likely to get de-prioritised if you can say that a week invested now will save 4 weeks and $50,000 on a fresh research study.

3. Be cool with the fact it might not answer every single question – and do it anyway

We often initiate fresh studies even though we have 80% of the answer already – because we think we really need that last 20%! In many cases the benefit of addressing that last 20% is outweighed by the time it will take to get to it. As insight people I think we need to get more comfortable advising based on well synthesised but incomplete data combined with educated projection.                                                   

4. Craft the output collaboratively

Synthesis is best embarked on solo as you need one person to sit quietly sifting through the material and connecting the dots. But, as soon as you start formulating ideas and output, we find it helps to run it past someone as frequently as possible to help see the wood for the trees. Talk out loud as often as you can.

5. Combine it with customer closeness work and action planning

Because you need to hide away to do it, synthesis can lack the engagement of your stakeholders who then forget you’re doing it and mentally move on to other things. One way to ensure your work doesn’t go dusty on the shelf is to deliver the output in conjunction with a customer closeness activity staged to drill into your key observations, followed up with an action planning session. Synthesis should lead to more action than a shiny new project, not less.

6. Combine it with quick ‘DIY’ research to validate your conclusions

If your synthesis would pack a bit more of a punch with a few more numbers and you don’t have time for a long research process, these days there are loads of cheap DIY research tools out there that can give you feedback overnight or even more quickly (we like Toluna Quick Surveys and YouGov’s daily omnibus service).

7. Add gravitas with your template

Synthesis should feel more weighty and consequential than a typical research output. Consider developing a different, more authoritative template than your run of the mill deliverables. 

Barbara Langer