Insight teams have the key to unlock vital consumer information, and given enough autonomy they can guide your business strategy towards great things. But all-too-often they're seen as a responsive team, designed to serve and not to lead. We explain how to redress the balance to everyone's benefit.
A wise man once said, ‘Too long have you sat in the shadows!’. OK, Gandalf might not have been talking to Insight teams directly, but the sentiment still holds. Insight teams are a frequently misused function with great potential, just like Théoden, Son of Théngel.
They’re a team with the potential to unlock key consumer information, and given enough autonomy they can guide your business strategy towards great things. But they’re still all-too-often seen as a responsive team, designed to serve and not to lead.
According to Customer Think, 65% of companies believe that their customer intelligence and insight functions are ‘strong’, and yet consumers are still repeatedly let down by products that don’t meet their needs or innovate at the pace they want and expect, in order to make their lives easier.
This doesn’t just let down consumers, but has a significant negative impact on businesses too, with several independent research studies suggesting that the failure rate of new products is consistently above 80%!
To be a successfully innovative company, you need to adopt an innovative culture throughout every team. But innovation doesn’t just happen, it needs to be grounded in consumer understanding. And who better to ‘own’ consumer understanding, than research and insight teams.
To join the new generation of insight-led (not just insight-supported) companies, read on and discover how to scale the effectiveness of your Insight team to this new height by involving them across your company.
The current (outdated) role of an insights team
Too many insight teams are backwards-looking. When did anyone ever move forwards by looking backwards?
They’re utilised to add colour to what has happened in the past year, quarter or month; what’s sold and why. They often serve as a tool for other (most often marketing) teams, fulfilling a descriptive need, spotting trends that have appeared, and explaining them.
They’re most certainly not autonomous. They aim to validate or facilitate the strategies of other business functions. Whilst this is in itself a walking contradiction (how objective can they truly be with the CMO breathing down their neck to validate their pre-existing strategies?), the real issue is in the clipping of their wings.
There is no reason why an insight team couldn’t be forward-looking. They have the key to the locked box containing successful strategies. Rather than responding to the needs of other teams, they could be leading the strategy and facilitating growth by looking forward and using their insights to predict the trends and market changes upcoming.
We’re talking about big changes here, but they’re absolutely achievable with current consumer insights methods, and particularly the emergence of scalable intelligence. First we’ll look at why it’s important to be forward-looking in order to achieve success in your company.
The importance of looking where you’re going, not where you’ve been
Your company as a whole should aim to be forward-looking to enable growth. Consumer insights are closely linked to growth; growth means your products are winning over ever more consumers but if you’re not listening to the needs of those consumers to inform your product and marketing strategies, no one will buy. So the Insight team are perfectly placed to facilitate growth.
Despite more companies expanding and scaling their Insight teams (fuelled by increasingly competitive markets, and the need for a competitive edge), Insight teams have all-too-often lacked the autonomy to contribute actively, instead being left in a reactive role.
But consumer attitudes and market trends aren’t reactive, they’re at the forefront, driving the changes brands are making, and not vice versa. Looking at consumer trends after-the-fact will leave you a step behind the way the market is shifting, always catching up, and not spotting the trend in enough time to be a competitive forerunner.
Being forward-looking, without pre-defined objectives handed down by other teams, allows the Insight team to drive the market, rather than reacting to it, by spotting uncatered-for niches.
This shift will move the everyday tasks of the Insight team from focussing on incremental product and service improvements, to larger-scale experimentation and disruptive innovation. Not just feedback, but foresight.
How to redistribute insight so everyone is forward-looking
It’s only when insight teams are allowed the autonomy to move into this forward-looking approach that they can provide genuine competitive advantage to your company.
And competitive advantage gets more important each and every day. Research shows that the most successful companies are utilising data and research to achieve customer-centric decision-making. Your Insight team must be set free in order to compete and grow.
A survey by The Boston Consulting Group found that 100% of CEOs from companies with more than $5 billion in annual revenue think consumer insights are critical to accelerating growth.
With the autonomy to use their own data (rather than handing this over to another function of the business to utilise) the Insight team can start to guide commercial decisions.
But these bigger, strategic and more interesting projects come at a cost. The insight team doesn’t have the capacity, even in the most efficient company, to both guide strategy, thinking about the big picture, and complete day-to-day insights tasks for other business functions.
Just as insight teams should be given the autonomy to think big, other business functions should also be trained and given the authority and ability to answer their necessary and important questions in efficient ways.
This is how insights can be scaled to every corner of a business, while freeing up Insight teams to tackle the biggest and most interesting future-facing projects.
With each function of the business empowered to find their own answers to everyday research tasks (whether that is testing messaging, tracking brand health, assessing the success of campaigns or keeping an eye on the changing perceptions towards your competitors), each element of the company will be gearing towards a fully insights-led mindset and approach to growth.
This might seem like a seismic shift, but you’ve got data experts – the Insight team – to hand to train and guide in the transition period. This way the are transformed from ‘doers’ to ‘enablers’ and strategic business partners.
The Insight team, in the meantime, will be free from inbound data requests, focussed instead on their own strategic and forward looking projects.
Where every team has direct access to consumer insight, and the insight team has more freedom to help define the businesses future, this is colloquially known as a win-win!
How to facilitate these changes
To unlock this step-change in productivity, all business functions need to become experts in the data pertaining to their own fields, to properly complete a cyclical strategy of learning, validating, reaching and measuring – each stage of which should be fully informed by real consumer data.
This may sound daunting, but with a little guidance and training, best practice guidelines and useful templates created, you’ll be surprised how quickly non-Insight teams can start to gather accurate, useful consumer data on their own.
The insight team can validate their own strategies as they go, using data to predict the commercial results, and as such be answerable to the leadership team and less so to individual functions.
Executives need to be prepared to let this change happen, and encourage the shift where needed. These are the key decision-makers where buy-in is required before your Insight team can be scaled effectively.
Another key shift has to take place within the Insight team too. They need to ‘let go’ of their role as sole owners of insights, in order to actually grow their influence and impact across an organisation.
These changes won’t happen overnight, and both executives and the insights team themselves will need to be prepared for a period of transition, while the team adjusts and responsibilities are redistributed.
There also need to be steps taken to avoid isolation of the insights team from the rest of the company – they cannot work effectively when siloed. Their strategic role will reach far and wide in the company, so they should work in tandem with other teams informing overall company strategy. The move from being backwards- to forwards-facing shouldn’t mean they relinquish the collaboration with other teams, they should merely have authority over the collaboration to a greater degree.
In their new roles as effective strategic partners, the insights team need to be agile, act quickly and turn around forward-looking data at a fast pace to give your company the greatest chance to stay ahead of competitors.
Attest’s scalable intelligence platform is a perfect tool for Insight teams with big ambitions, allowing real-time intelligence from a high-quality audience of up to 100 million consumers across 49 countries.
Moreover, the platform Attest offers can have multiple seats, meaning leaders in each business function can use this real-time, simple consumer intelligence tool for their own purposes, at no additional cost.
And the insight team can still retain overall control, creating templates, reviewing drafts and helping to analyse results with their colleagues.
Get in touch with Attest today to find out how we can assist with scaling the effectiveness of your insights team and how teams across your business can benefit from a shared package.