OPINION15 November 2017

Communicating human truths through research

Media Opinion Public Sector Trends UK

In a world full of false claims, researchers and communications professionals should push for insights to become outward-facing to improve perceptions of trust, writes Jack Miles, research director at Northstar Research.


Human truths should be central to all marketing communications. However, it is often the absence of truth in communications which makes the news. In the last week alone, Chinese retail websites have been condemned for false claims and the world’s most expensive dram has been exposed as a fake. So rife are false communications that Macmillan Cancer have invested in human resource to combat fake news. With such events occurring, it is hardly surprising that Edelman’s Trust Barometer reports a trust crisis around the world.

Why is this relevant to us as researchers?

As researchers, we are uniquely placed to understand which human truths are, well, true. However, the problem we face is that often the truths we uncover are never outwardly communicated to consumers. Yes, the truths we uncover may be the fuel of communications and content, but rarely do they take a significantly visual role in consumer facing communications.

At a time when marketing communications are riddled with falsified information, maybe it is time for this to change. Maybe it is time for brands to start communicating the human truths research tells them about their consumers directly to the consumer themselves. By doing so, brands will ensure their reputational equity is enhanced by perceptions of honesty and not tarnished by claims of communications falsification. And if we believe that trust drives reputation and reputation drives brand growth, this usage of advertising can result in commercial benefits.

Such an application of communication recently paid dividends for Metfriendly – the mutual society for London’s Metropolitan Police. It wanted to show its audience – the Metropolitan Police – that it understood them. By doing so the society also wanted to leverage its core brand attribute of trust – which is also a key metric for all financial organisations.

Metfriendly began this process by undertaking several research streams to investigate the lives of the Metropolitan Police:

  •       Financial usage and attitudes measurement
  •       A financial needs assessment
  •       Using CRM data vs. claimed product ownership data to understand areas of confusion
  •       Qualitative discussions around tonality and communications preferences

From this, Metfriendly was able to design several communications assets that communicated the findings from these research streams back to its members as well as potential future members. A series of data visuals placed in police canteens across the capital communicated the knowledge of police officers’ financial concerns, saving activity and spending habits (obtained from usage and attitudes research), a research presentation directly to members at the Metfriendly AGM, and social media communication that allowed the organisation to say it had ‘real’ insights to share with members.

All of the above helped Metfriendly become more approachable, evidenced by an increase in attendance at face-to-face events, more customer enquiries, new business development success and membership numbers.

But this isn’t just an example of how research has fuelled brand growth. This is a two-way calling to both communications professionals and researchers…

To communications professionals: at a time when global trust is low, you can enhance the trust perceptions of your communications by changing how you use a tool that has been available to you since the 1930s – market research.                       

To researchers: we are the keeper of human truths and we can help our communications counterparts by pushing for these to become outward-facing communications collateral.

If both communications professionals and researchers answer this calling, we can help reduce the negative press marketing communications receive by using research in an alternative manner and improve the trust perceptions of the brands we serve in doing so.