How to build a consumer insights team (and why you need one)

A consumer insights team has a deep understanding of consumers which is critical for company strategy. Find out how to build & structure an expert team.

How do you turn data into strategy? How do sales numbers translate to your service and marketing departments? How do you go from consumer research to real actionable insights that can propel your business?

Great ideas, fascinating data and helpful insights are most likely scattered across your organization. 

Time to fuse them all together into a melting pot of data, skills and creativity. Time to build a consumer insights (CI) team. 

What we’ll cover in this article:

What a customer insight team actually is: what can it look like in your organization?

What customer insights are and how they can benefit your business

Six great reasons your business needs a customer insight team if you want to get ahead of the competition:

  1. You’ll be ahead of trends, instead of just following them
  2. You’ll become better at storytelling
  3. Your decision-making process will be fuelled with data put in the right context
  4. You’ll improve collaboration across your entire organization
  5. You’ll synthesize data, to make it make sense to everyone
  6. You’ll be able to build a consumer-focused brand throughout your organization

A six-step plan to build a consumer insights function that actually thrives within your organization:

  1. Define what success looks like
  2. Give your CI team real power
  3. Set up communication lines
  4. Create a top-notch toolkit for your CI team
  5. Find the right people
  6. Integrating the CI team in your day-to-day

A consumer insights team isn’t a luxury – it’s a necessity 

Organizations that are struggling to make the shift to being customer-centric usually have all the ingredients on board for success, but there’s no team in the kitchen. 

That’s a huge waste of resources, skills and time. You might be collecting all the data that you need, but if it’s not made accessible for everyone in your organization, it isn’t useful. And then it’s just numbers on a screen.

Bring it all together with a cross-functional CI team that’s your business’s go-to resource for all strategic decisions. Here’s how you give your customers a louder voice in your organization with a customer insight team.

What Is a Consumer Insight Team

A group dedicated to customer insight is a collaboration of customer advocates within your organization, coming from different teams. They join forces to share and interpret customer insights, and turn it into fuel for the decision-making process of all departments.

You might have heard about the importance of gathering consumer insights, and maybe you feel like a customer insight team is taking it one step too far. 

But you can’t leverage all that knowledge if it remains siloed: if sales only knows its sales numbers, if marketing only refers to its own reports and if customer success teams keep their know-how to themselves.

Enter the customer insight team! 

You pick people from all parts of your organization and they bring all those insights together, for specific projects, events or services but also to check if day-to-day actions are aligned with what’s helpful for consumers

It’s vital that these team members are connected and integrated with the already established teams. 

The whole idea is that they feed the insights directly back to all the teams – just in a more digestible and actionable way.

What kind of consumer insights are we talking about?

Short answer: any.

Long answer: let’s dive back into the definition we gave in our article on 5 companies that used consumer insights extremely well.

Consumer insights consist of information and data about behaviours and opinions of consumers, often through market research. It doesn’t just focus on what they do, like buying less milk, but also on why they do that.

Combining these kinds of insights gives data more context and allows you to craft more effective marketing campaigns, better products and tailored services.

What do consumer insights do for your business?

The list is endless, but here are our favorite ways customer insights help businesses:

  • They help you take control over the customer journey
  • They enable you to personalize your marketing messaging
  • They’re crucial for brand tracking and development
  • They prevent misunderstanding in any marketing campaign
  • They can predict churn and improve inventory planning

Why Do You Need A Customer Insights Team? 

A dedicated customer insight team basically allows you to combine the left and right brains in your organization, so you can get to work with a whole-brain mindset.

Whereas many companies have already embraced the customer-centric approach, they still struggle with materializing it. 

Basically, they don’t know how to run market research, then put all that quantitative data and knowledge about customer behavior together, and turn it into action.

But simply getting more out of your market research is definitely one of the key benefits of having a CI team on the floor, but it doesn’t stop there. 

Let’s look at some of the ways a CI team can transform your organization. 

Traditionally, market research could only be done by looking back. By reviewing trends and recognizing patterns from the past, future predictions and business decisions were made. 

That means being one step behind – companies were following consumer trends after they had already set in, frantically creating the products, services and campaigns that were en vogue, but might not be anymore. 

By gathering real-time customer insights, you can get ahead of the trend. Yes, this requires doing regular check-ins and ongoing research, but the benefits definitely outweigh the costs, because not only can you get ahead of trends, you can get ahead of the competition. 

Instead of following consumer trends, proactively engage with consumers, so you can get ahead of the trend. 

How does a customer insight team specifically contribute to this shift from reactive to proactive business decisions? It’s simply their job: insights professionals have the market research experience, time and resources to find the right data and feed it back to their colleagues who need it in their decision-making process.

It’s the marketer’s job to go back to the drawing board, to understand and respond to the changes in their target customers.

Ayomi Rupasinghe, Marketing Director, Secret Cinema

Become better at storytelling

Having a deep understanding of what data actually means can be extremely valuable for your storytelling skills.

No creative person in your organization dives into spreadsheets when they’re looking for inspiration for a new blog, ad or campaign. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t any value to be found in those numbers.

A customer insight team translates the market research quantitative data and puts it into context, so it can be used by all departments – from sales to content, operations, HR and more.

Make backed up decisions, faster

Who has the final word in your decision-making process? In a customer-centric organization, it should be… the consumer!

A customer insight team is the perfect sounding board for any idea. After all, they cover all parts of the organization, and have direct feedback from customers to back up colleagues’ decisions. 

If a marketing director wants to make informed decisions on a campaign, or a strategy specialist needs some back up in their business decision-making, they can turn to the customer insight team for the go-ahead or data they need to present to stakeholders.

‘’The impact is coming in reduced time and improved next-round thinking that we’re taking into focus groups where we’ve got a high cost factor. If we don’t go in with the right materials and the right framework, we’re wasting money. And so Attest has helped us do a lot of the front-end work that then we’re able to go and build on.’’

Tripp Hughes, Senior Director of Consumer Strategy at Organic Valley

Better collaboration

All departments in your business have multiple data sources, which come together in the insights team. They help sales understand what marketing is doing, and allow finance to see what customer service means for the numbers. 

But insights don’t just help teams understand each other better, it actually promotes collaboration. 

Seeing how one’s actions also impact others’ is a great way to boost teamwork. On top of that, the representatives from every team build bridges between different departments, creating a lot more synergy in your organization.

Organic Valley saw the power of this first-hand. They enabled everyone who needs insights within Organic Valley to be able to access them in a matter of hours (not the four weeks it used to take), using Attest. 

I think the key thing here is the democratization; it’s not entirely on me as an insights director. I can set it up so that some of our younger associates can start to dive in and construct their own surveys. And, honestly, for me as a director, that’s powerful because there aren’t a lot of ways they can do that.

Tripp Hughes, Senior Director of Consumer Strategy, Organic Valley

Synthesize data

Customer data is only valuable if you process it right. If you can’t make sense of it, you’re still going on guesswork. A customer insights team gives context to the data. 

A customer insight team is dedicated to turning unstructured data from several data sources into a steady stream of understandable insights that can be used by various departments. 

This does mean you need people on board who can actually work with the data, but more on that later.

Consumer-focused brand development

Be the brand your customers need. Every marketing campaign, every strategy discussion: it becomes so much easier when your consumers give you their two-cents.

Many companies only test out internally developed content with consumers in the last stage. 

With a customer insight team on board, you can use insights from the first brainstorming session, making sure your brand is shaped by and for your customers. 

You’ll then be able to drive customer-centric growth, which will lead to higher customer satisfaction. 

A Step-by-Step Guide to Building a Customer Insights Team

After reading about all the benefits a customer insight team brings to the table, you’re probably dying to set one up. But let’s slow down.

Because a CI team is extremely powerful, but also extremely difficult to build exactly right. 

A study by the BCG found that there are four stages of maturity for CI teams:

  • Traditional Market Research Provider: mostly project-based reports based on managers’ requests
  • Business Contributors: The CI team turns customer insights into business recommendations, in a broader business perspective than just one-off projects.
  • Strategic Insight Partner: the CI team is the go-to place for advice for all teams in the organization.
  • Source of Competitive Advantage: customer insight team’s market research is used to innovate and inform business decisions and core processes across the organization.

What’s important to know about this, is that only 20 percent of companies reach stage 3 and 4 with their insights team.

That would be a big waste of time, money and resources, wouldn’t it?

So, in the framework that we give you here to build a CI team, we’ve incorporated the most common challenges that stop 80 percent of these teams from succeeding, to prepare you for battle.

Step 1: Define what success should look like

A lot of CI teams fail because they lack a clear vision. Before the team gets to work, they need to know what their actual purpose is. 

What decisions will they be influencing? What areas need most of their attention? What goals are set across departments and teams, and where should they be contributing?

The CI team shouldn’t just be used as a crystal ball – give them specific goals and targets that they can focus on, to turn them into real specialists. 

Communicate this vision and version of success to everyone who comes into contact with the customer insights team – so, everyone in your organization basically!

Step 2: Give your CI team real power

Knowledge is power, sure, but if the team still gets slowed down by the seal of approval of your CEO, it’s not as powerful. 

Be prepared to give your CI team the authority to yay or nay influential decisions. This responsibility and status is ultimately what will help them reach those higher maturity stages. 

Step 3: Set up communication lines

Make sure everyone can reach and communicate effectively with the CI team. If that’s not the case, data and insights still get lost in the gaps between teams—the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve. 

Make it clear to everyone in your organization how to leverage the knowledge gathered by your customer insights team.

This could mean that you build a knowledge base, in which you make it easy to find interpretations of data. Or you put the CI team in the middle of your floor, if that’s more your style.

Sit down with all your employees and find out what would work for them, so everyone gets access to the right information.

Step 4: Create a top-notch toolkit

Where you’re getting your consumer insights from definitely matters in all this. Give your CI team powerful tools that help them gather real-time, real-world data from audiences that matter.

You don’t necessarily need a lot of tools. Whatever tools your CI team uses, it should be tools that simplify the process of gathering and interpreting data.

Attest is the go-to choice for customer insight teams who want to collect data fast, and from reliable sources. 

Knowing who your existing and future customers are helps drive company direction and unlock new sources of growth. Our advanced audience access and filters makes this all possible.

This insight helps you create personas for your future and present consumers, from which you can tailor your marketing strategy and messages and improve your product and services to suit them. 

Through market research you can also understand where and when is best to reach your target audience. What sets them apart from other consumers, and what specific pain points should you be addressing?

Step 5: Meanwhile: Find the right people

You’re going to need people with customer mindsets running through their veins. Employees who are trusted decision makers, who understand data and advocate for the customer.

Bear in mind that these people do need a strong connection to other teams in your organization. Don’t put them on an island: the whole idea is to make every customer insight more accessible, not harder to reach.

Step 6: Make the CI team a real part of day-to-day business

It’s all about integration. Having a CI team to work with will probably mean that some processes and structures within your organization will change. 

Be prepared for that and lead the changes, instead of letting them take control over you. 

Communicate clearly what the expectations are and gather feedback constantly to improve how the team interacts with your organizations.

Set your customer insight team up for success

If you’re building your very first customer insights team, you’ll want them to hit the ground running. With Attest, they get access to ready-made templates that allow them to launch surveys faster than ever.

Take a look at our consumer profiling survey template to see how easy it is!

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Sam Killip

Head of Attest Customer Expertise (ACE) 

Sam joined Attest in 2019 and leads the Attest Customer Expertise (ACE) team. Sam and her team support brands through their market research journey, helping them carry out effective research and uncover insights to unlock new areas for growth.

See all articles by Sam