Market research reports should be more like whiskey

Frau IC
6 min readOct 22, 2021


The market research industry has been consistently criticised by research users from different walks of lives, including clients, for producing no insights. I have tried to get to the root of the problems here, here, here, here and here. But to criticise without offering constructive suggestions is irresponsible and arrogant. In this article, I will re-work Section 4 of a (random) report to illustrate how a market research report should be written. I encourage you to do the same and share your tips.

Section 4 of the China Luxury Forecast 2021 Report

My three rules of thumb are:

Rule №1: Focus
Rule №2: Storytelling not reporting
Rule №3: Avoid charts if possible

Rule №1: Focus

Do not report on every single question and in the same order as appeared in the questionnaire!

Our objective is our focus. In this case, the business objective is to showcase the company’s capabilities with thought leadership. The report is not the end, but a means to the end — business development. Translating into research objective, the focus of the report should be offering a new or unique perspective into the luxury market in Hong Kong and mainland China — i.e., the insights. While “new” is often interpreted as “unheard of”, it does not have to be. “New” can also mean new perspective.

Think of report writing as whiskey making. We are now at Stage 4:

Credit: Whiskey Muse

The sample report we are re-working on is at Stage 3, as illustrated by its content page:

The original report is an example of reporting on findings. The blue texts are two suggested changes. I have only re-worked Section 4 but you are welcome to re-work the rest.

Everything that we write in the report should both be directed by our objective and faciliate it. We should be distilling all the findings to increase their purity by removing redundancies, rather than serving the findings in their barest form (i.e., the distillers’ beer by analogy). A fatal problem that has attracted the most complaints is market researchers’ love of chunky, 100-plus-pages reports consisting of bar/column/pie charts that present the findings in as many sub-group analyses as the client may be interested to know.

To reach Stage 4, we will need to draw out impurities that will muddle our readers’ attention and ask “What do these numbers mean?”. Analysis does not mean reporting the percentages! After re-working Section 4, I have decided on the followings to be the “distillers’ beer” that will be further worked into insights:

  • Resilience amid COVID-19 in Hong Kong and mainland China
  • Opportunities arising from COVID-19
Suggested changes to S. 4 in blue: I have reworked the content by distilling the section into these two themes

Rule №2: Storytelling not reporting

We will now proceed to Stages 5 and 6 where we should be telling a story. There is a difference between storytelling and reporting on findings. Just because we have included descriptive commentaries with our charts, added headings and grouped the findings into sections does not mean we have a story.

Think of identifying insights as the maturing process of whiskey making, Stage 5. We should always keep the story that we want to tell in mind. We should also do further research, using secondary research from third-party sources to situate our research findings in contexts. Our findings need to be grounded on something in order to become insights.

Stage 6: To tell a good story, we do not need to follow the same order as the questions. Indeed, doing so will result in the chunky, descriptive, lacking-of-insights reports that we should avoid at all cost. If need be, pick the relevant points from different questions and “mix and match”.

This is how I would work on the “distillers’ beer”:

Resilience amid COVID-19 in Hong Kong and mainland China

  • Lockdowns, mask-wearing and other successful measures have put the spread of the virus under control. With vaccines, consumers have become less fearful. Despite new variants, people now know how to protect themselves while healthcare professionals fight on the frontline. Consumers’ confidence picks up.
  • Luxury consumption is among the first to benefit. Despite an initial drop in spending in Q1 2020, we saw signs of recovery to the pre-pandemic level by Q1 2021. COVID-19 has knocked down many, but Chinese luxury consumers are making a come back. Stronger than ever!
  • The pandemic experience has made people rethink their values and refocus their life goals. This in turn influences their purchase behaviours and attitudes.

Insights: Not bouncing back, but forward. Post-pandemic, Chinese consumers will elevate themselves to a whole new level. They are now after quality rather than quantity. This quality is no quality from pre-pandemic. Chinese consumers are becoming more discerning when they choose what to spend on. They are willing to spend once they have an eye on it. For example, mainland Chinese consumers will no longer pay for the sake of paying — high price for status (quantity of likes, quality of face), but for the newly-defined quality: sophistication and sustainability.

Opportunities arising from COVID-19

The pandemic has created new opportunities for luxury brand owners:

  • There is an increase in online shopping for luxury goods, meaning that consumers will be less restricted by distance and location.
  • We can also observe an emerging second-hand market for luxury goods, especially among younger luxury consumers. This is growing alongside repairing luxury items. Luxury brands are beginning to offer free repair services.
  • As paradoxical as it may sound, luxury brands need to actively play a part in these trends, setting against the backdrop of sustainability, in order to stay relevant in the market. The pandmic has added to its urgency.

Insights: Luxury is everlasting. In addition to heritage and lasting quality, luxury brands should also be an active facilitator for our everlasting environment through sustainability. Luxury brands will last for as long as our environment lasts.

Rule №3: Avoid charts if possible

Stage 7 is where we will package our report in a manner that aids reading. We should have our readers in mind — e.g., their preferences, habits and backgrounds. Each report should be presented differently.

Charts like this are difficult to read:

Source: China Luxury Forecast 2021

A better presentation will be to show infographics that support the various scenes of our story. We do not need to show every thing everytime. Include a dashboard for readers who want to see more. The rule of thumb is just enough to get by.

Sample Dashboard from Power BI

For future…

The market research reports commonly produced by most market research agencies are at Stage 3 only — it is a necessary stage but far from client- or readers-ready. Nevertheless, the current set-up of a typical market research project does not allow for the whiskey-making process I am advocating. Time constraint will always be an issue, but it is not the most pressing. If research agencies stop making researchers (client-facing) fieldwork’s nannies, researchers will have more time to do what we should be doing — digging insights and telling stories.

Note: For an exemplar of a whiskey-like market research report, please refer to this.