By Lucy Davison, originally published on Research World
An insights team that is not changing, flexible and evolving is one that is destined to fail.
This might seem like an extreme statement, but the list of challenges facing heads of insight is growing fast; from a flood of data from multiple sources and a positive juggernaut of new technologies and methodologies, to non-insight teams doing DIY and an audience of stakeholders with less interest, less time, zero patience and more distractions than ever before. Add to this increased concern around data security, new regulations and restrictions and a dwindling audience of people willing to take part in traditional survey research, and the issues might seem insurmountable.
However, as Simon Chadwick of Cambiar Consulting says, “There is no other specialism in business that delivers as high a return on investment as research does”.
The problem is that insight needs marketing! Not just the marketing of agencies to clients, or suppliers to agencies, but the marketing of insights teams themselves within client organisations. As Chadwick goes on to say:
“Researchers need to be marketers in their own organizations, constantly and persistently proving the case for strategic consumer insights.”
As organisations everywhere adopt an ‘always-on’ culture, insights teams themselves need to be always on – agile and able to identify, develop and communicate insights at any moment. However, traditional insights teams are not used to managing multiple audiences, beyond their immediate stakeholders.
The solution is not only about communication. Insight teams are often not close to business goals or the key decision makers, and this reduces their chances to solve or influence strategic and tactical business challenges. As Chadwick says “at the start of a project it is vital that all stakeholders are aligned around what the true business issue is so that the research is designed to solve that issue. If you know this, you can agree on the metrics that will define what impact looks like”.
So how can insight teams restructure and reskill to deliver impact? David Torres, of Intuit Consulting, recently completed a long-term project to build the insight team of the future for a large multi-national organization. He suggests that there are three key areas that create agile insights teams and give them greater impact.
For him the first thing to fix is structure. “Every business is different” says Torres “The resources and ambition of the team and organisation need to be aligned. The more involved the insights team is in the strategic decisions, the better placed it is to lead the insights agenda”. To move from data supplying to consulting, the team needs a vision and strategy which is defined and agreed with the organisation. In order to get a strong vision, you need a strong and visible leader. One that can engage comfortably and equally with the C-suite and earn a seat at the top table. A good insights leader will influence as a core part of their role.
Once you have your vision and leadership, you can sort out the right people. As Torres says
“The alignment of talent and vision is key for success.”
Once the talent is there, different skills need to be developed. Most teams will need a mix of data and analytics skills and strategic consultancy, communication and entrepreneurial skills.
Torres’ third point is to look at data. Some organisations still believe that more is better. But “When it comes to data, less is more” he says. “With limited resources we need to prioritise by having an infrastructure that is both flexible and expandable. Many organisations still lack (and sometimes don’t even see the value of having) a knowledge platform”. Platforms are no longer just repositories, they are now searchable and intuitive and can help the insights team move from being librarians to active participants in the future of their organisation.
Communication and consulting skills, like data skills, can be learnt. Providing teams with frameworks for storytelling, copywriting and design, support vastly improved confidence in communications. However, don’t expect the insight team to become copywriters and designers themselves. Unless you are happy for them to stop being researchers, be prepared to bring in external skills as you need them. Having the right strategic conversations at the outset, sharing data and putting it in the hands of stakeholders, working flexibly with freelancers and using agencies to step in to help create materials, all are essential ways to ensure insights are going to have impact. As Joe Tripodi (ex-CMO of Coca Cola) once said:
“If you don’t like change, you will like irrelevance a whole lot less.”