If you have done or considered research in the past year, you might have heard or seen the word “insights”. In fact, you might have come across that word a lot. “Insights” is becoming the favorite buzzword among the market research industry, ala the new “big data”. Getting the right insights is critical as research becomes increasingly more strategic and less data-heavy.

Insights can give you the information you need to act on your objectives, but what does “insights” entail? Unfortunately, very few define its meaning; some might promise insights but then stop at reporting significant differences. It is important to understand what degree of insights you need from your research so that you can be clear about your expectations for deliverables.

There are five different degrees to what the industry refers to as “insights”. Each degree can provide an increasingly better and more direct solution to the business problem, but many research solutions stop too soon. Knowing what to look for can help you communicate what degree of insight you need, compared to what kind of insight you might just get.

First: Data

This is reporting the raw data: averages, frequencies, standard deviations, etc. This is what you receive as a basic deliverable when using an online survey builder.

  • WHY IT MATTERS: All research should report the data, but this should be to drive insight not replace it. Pure data can be overwhelming and intimidating for some. It can be time-consuming to present and difficult to conceptualize at a large scope.

Second: Analysis

Raw data is transformed using advanced analytics such as significant difference testing or regressions. Questions are examined relative to one another to provide more robust metrics, such as customer loyalty.

  • WHY IT MATTERS: Analysis can start to give representation to the raw data; however, the output is still limited to numbers and statistics, which can pose the same shortcomings as raw data.

Third: Interpretation

Inferences are made based on the results of analysis. Statements are made regarding the market or audience, which are supported by the data. Thus, the data starts to transform from “what it is” toward “what it means”.

  • WHY IT MATTERS: This is where value begins to emerge in reporting the research: results are more applicable to the real world and can be better socialized within a company or team, especially among those without a research background or statistics knowledge base.

Why stop there?

A lot of research companies who say they offer “insights” stop at the Second or Third degree. They run an analysis and report the output, and maybe sprinkle some depth or context to the findings. One popular example of this is Google Surveys: While it is a good data collection tool, its “insights” feature stops at reporting only Significant Differences.

Fourth: Implications and (True) Insights

Data and analysis are examined relative to the business problem and put into context of the company and marketplace. Truly transforming data to insights requires both a business understanding and technical research expertise.

  • WHY IT MATTERS: Results are translated to a more business-oriented language that is more appropriate for key stakeholders or executives. Findings are prioritized and presented in a way that tells a story, with supporting data represented visually (infographics) to create a clear, engaging report.

Fifth & Final: Recommendations

Researchers apply their expertise and objectivity to recommend how to proceed, based on the accumulation of data, analysis, interpretation, implications and insights.

  • WHY IT MATTERS: Recommendations provide the next step to operationalize and implement the research; they are the most direct route to identifying the solution to the business problem.
    Every degree of insights gets closer to what will drive your business forward. The translation from data to action items is how to ensure the research provides strategic value. Make sure to understand what each degree entails to identify what someone might really mean by “insights”.

Market research firm SMS Research Advisors are part of PadillaCRT. This article originally appeared in the SMS blog.