Customer insight should be the lifeblood of an organisation; the element that creates competitive advantage. That is the rational argument for generating customer insights. In reality, the way organisations generate and use customer insight can be very different. So how can organisations embed market research to create the advantage that they desire?
What Is An Insight?
First let’s consider what it is we are trying to create on a regular basis: insight. An insight is the ‘golden nugget’, the ‘needle in the haystack’ that will spark new action. Long ago we thought market research was just a process of collecting data. Ours was not to judge the data, but to collect it. Now, however, that role has changed. With organisations overloaded with data and with decisions being taken ever faster, the role of market research is one of generating customer insights. We must gather data, interpret it and generate an insight that the organisation can use. Our role is therefore facilitator, generator and consultant.
Insights are those “aha” moments when the solution to a problem arises and can be seen clearly. Insights happen when new light is shed on a subject. With insight, we enjoy wisdom, balance, and perspective.
This definition is useful because anything that sheds new light on a decision can, by definition, arise from any type of data or information source. This means that we must be ‘open’ to all sources of data and create a structure that not only provides technical feeds of information from all sources, but also a team and culture that is actively using all sources. We must put emphasis on creative thinking and business consultation, not just traditional skills of data manipulation.
The problem organisations can have with insight is that they want to create a production line, churning insights out every day to remain competitive. And yet, the ‘aha’ moments, ‘golden nuggets’ aren’t really the function of a production line, but are more akin to ‘panning for gold’; a process of sifting, reflecting and thinking. Instead of a production line an organisation needs to create the right environment for insight and then put a structure and communication lines in place to ensure the information flows across the organisation.
You generate insight when the environment and conditions are correct. The insight team must:
Understand what insights are and actively look for them
Occupy a state of mind in which they are apt to insight generation
Learn how to listen and see in such a way that insights are recognised and crystallised
Grow their understanding of what the business needs to succeed
1. What is Success?
The skills and internal dynamics of the team are crucial. Insight can’t be generated in a production-style process; data can, but insight is far less predictable. There is only so much scheduling, processing and automating that can be done. Yes, efficiencies can and should be found in processing data and manipulating it, but this mustn’t be allowed to become the core focus of the team and it must be recognised that the purpose of scheduling and automation is to allow more time to be spent on the insight creation and communication with the business. The data elements should be treated as an input and no more. The output of the team is judged on the success of the insight.
2. A Multi-Disciplinary Approach
The team needs a multi-disciplinary approach; it should be designed to have different skills sets –statisticians, business management, marketing expertise, psychologists and sociologists should be mixed together. The balance between the skills sets is important. As is the flow and dynamic of the team; the integration of workflow is important. If you silo the team into boxes then you lose the benefit of it being multi-disciplinary. You must therefore ‘design-in’ sufficient teamwork and opportunities to discuss and share. Plenty of time must be given to internal team communication.
3. Bounded Creativity
‘Bounded creativity’ is a term that is important to successful insight generation. This is about setting the conditions for working and designing-in the sharing and communication, but it can’t be unlimited and totally unconstrained. The terms of engagement need to be clear; when are results expected, by whom in the organisation and why does it matter to the stakeholders. Outline the roles of each team member and the channels and timescales for communications. Be clear on the events and milestones. Bounded creativity is not about a production line, but defining the space in which people operate.
Generating More Insights - The Organisation
Once the team and conditions are in place for successful insight generation, the next critical element is the connection that that team has across the organisation. Successful insight generation replies on embedding the insight team within the organisation, which in turn is about embedding a culture of insight, not disseminating individual, discrete insights.
Improving the flow of insight depends on 3 conditions being in place:
1. Operational Context
Insight generation will only be successful if the team is connected across several different ‘nodes’ of the organisation. They need to be connected to every key sphere of influence. This will vary in every organisation but explains why FMCG brands often ‘embed’ insight team members within each brand team, or why successful entertainment businesses embed insights members within temporary project teams during new service development initiatives. Success will depend on identifying where those spheres exist in the organisation and then creating a formal (or informal) connection with them.
2. Data Inflows
Every possible type of data source must be routed into and out of the insight team. The team needs to be the hub for data for the whole organisation. If there is data that the call centre has, then the insight team needs a feed from it at least, if not to become the direct owner of the data source. If there is a need for a tracking survey, then the insight team needs to own it. If there is a customer CRM database or social media reviews being used, then the insight team needs to have a feed from that data flow.
Likewise the team need to identify and put in place a strategy for ad hoc data sources, often through primary customer research, ensuring that all aspects of the customer are understood.
As highlighted at the outset of this blog, “aha” moments can (and should) occur from any data source. And their generation is likely to be improved if you encourage their combination and tri-angulation.
3. Communication Sharing
The team need to have formal channels of communication for insight – both proactively out of the team to specific forums in the business, or through the creation of informal channels where stakeholders and key players in the organisation are ‘encouraged’ to come into contact with insights. A communication strategy is important otherwise you leave the likely use of insights to chance.
Putting the right conditions in place for generating insights is not easy and is a continuous effort, but in a world where insight can mean competitive advantage, it is well worth the investment. The critical point, to me, is to treat them with care and not as a production line.
CEO and Founder of FlexMR, Paul has over 20 years of market research experience. As an experienced online researcher, Paul remains active within the insights industry and is dedicated to innovating market research techniques for online application. You can follow Paul on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn.