Posts by Carol Shea

The Top 5 Challenges in Converting In-Person To Virtual Qualitative Research

As I’m sitting here converting some upcoming focus group research to online research, I realized many of you are maybe in the same boat. So, if you are wondering how to keep participants and yourselves safe by conducting your upcoming focus groups, in-depth interviews, or ethnographic interviews online, here’s some tips and resources for making virtual qualitative research work for you.

In-person to virtual qual research tips

Want a PDF with clickable links to Olivetree’s favorite online qual tools? Just email us at

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Market Research Budget Tips
5 Tips for a Better Insights Budget in 2020

Are you getting the right budget for all of your company’s research needs? Unfortunately, the answer is “No” for many insights team leaders. Most companies determine what the overall budget increase allowance is going to be for the coming year (unless you are unluckily in a budget cut or neutral situation) and then have to compete with other departments if they need anything more.

Insights are the fuel for the business growth engine, and the annual planning process is the perfect time to make sure you’ve planned to have enough fuel for the upcoming 12 months.

So, what’s an insights leader to do?  Here’s 5 best practice tips for improving your chances that your research budget will actually meet your company’s needs.

1 – Get Prepared  

Evaluate the past year’s research and document how and where it contributed to making better decisions. Did teams avoid making costly errors?  Did a new messaging strategy lead to improved sales? Did a new product get launched leading to a new revenue stream?   Don’t be shy about asking for this input from stakeholders as the list of research results is a great way to prove the value of research.

Was there a shortfall in last year’s budget?  If so, identify the ramifications of the shortfall.  Estimate the opportunity costs of research deliverables being missed or delayed and the costs of being understaffed.

Are their new research tools, techniques and suppliers that save time/costs and/or improve the value of the research? Identify these and include them in upcoming plans.

2 – Align with Key Business Objectives

Interview all key business leaders to identify each of the strategic business objectives that must be addressed next year, by brand or division. These could include business objectives like increase product trial, optimize online presence, and Go / No Go on new product(s). By the way this may seem obvious, but “learn more about customers” is not a business objective. Unfortunately, I’ve seen this in too many RFP’s to miss mentioning it here.

When probing business leaders about what they need to learn to achieve their business objectives (the research objectives), make sure that all key research topics:

  • Align with the key business objectives
  • Can yield actionable results
  • Avoid “nice to knows”

Then, work with your brand team to stratify research opportunities into two to three  tiers: say A, B, and C priorities.  While we’d like to treat all of our brands and products equally; it’s just a reality that some have more importance and thus demand more resources than others.  This doesn’t mean you should ignore strategic learning opportunities for lower priority brands; they likely also need marketplace insights to support growth.  As feasible, look for secondary/syndicated research options and other lower-cost research options to support better decisions for those brands and products.

3 – Create and Pitch the Budget

Now that you’ve gathered all the background information, you need to sit down and create the actual budget. You’ll likely have some tough decisions to make so it’s a good idea to build a few different “what if” scenarios based on different levels of funding.

If your business objectives include major new initiatives, you need to be certain to have covered those – this is the time to advocate for more dollars.

How MUCH to allocate is tricky and there’s no set rules (way back in the day, the marketing research budget was typically about 10% of the marketing budget).  Research costs are dropping like crazy and there are more DIY options than ever.  You just need to be sure you carefully weigh the risk and rewards of all techniques carefully. For example, I just recently ran across a company that provides very robust Marketing Mix Modeling for less than $80k, a far cry from the $300k+ cost companies have charged for this in the past.  This shows the importance of staying on top of industry changes.

Consider activities that can be dropped to release resources.  Does every project need a full report or would a topline suffice?  Are those brand trackers still providing the value your company needs?

Here’s a sample partial annual marketing research plan that demonstrates how research objectives and methodologies align to business objectives.

Marketing Research Budget Example

4 –  Implement Proof of Concepts If You Can’t Get Projects Funded

If you still have too many project requests and not enough budget to execute them all, one option is to check with new suppliers and see if they will run a free, small proof of concept test.

It enables you to get directional feedback on a new product or service idea making it easier to find budget for more projectable research if the concept appears to hold promise. And, it gives the vendor an opportunity to establish a working relationship with you while demonstrating their capabilities.

5 – Monitor the Progress and Adjust

An old adage attributed to Ben Franklin, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” is still true today and applies to insights leaders. You and your team should set up periodic checkpoints for the annual research plan to be sure that their strategic priorities have not changed. This will help ensure that project goals are being met and that budget dollars are being maximized.

Sometimes even well thought out plans need to be adjusted based on changing business circumstances. Keep adding to your alternate scenarios as situations arise so that you and your business partners see the impact and trade-off of each alternative and gain internal alignment on available options. Then you’ll be better prepared to make adjustments to plans well before it becomes difficult to take action.

A Final Review

It’s already September so budgets are being finalized and it’s likely the last chance for you to amend your budget for 2020.   Hopefully this article has given you some points for making sure you are getting the budget your company needs to be more successful.

Need help? Olivetree Insights can help you create your annual Marketing Research plan and budget. Contact to get the most out of your research budget.

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Tracking impact and ROI of insights
Tracking the Impact & ROI of Insights

Insights Association and Olivetree Insights webinar series: “Insights, A Source of Strategic Leadership”

The ROI of Insights is not about conducting research projects better, faster and cheaper. The ROI of Insights is about making real and measurable business impact using insights derived from marketing research.

This important topic was addressed in the 5th and final session of a five part Insights Association and Olivetree Insights webinar series: ‘Insights, A Source of Strategic Leadership.’   The following is a recap of the key points from the expert panel.

Andrew Cannon, Executive Director, Global Research Business Network
Simon Chadwick, Managing Partner, Cambiar
Ben Gilgoff, Executive Director, Global Customer Insights, Merck

Slow Progress to Strategic Partnership
A groundbreaking study by the Boston Consulting Group in 2008-9 broke corporate insights departments into four stages: Traditional/Emerging (Stage 1), Business Contributors (2), Strategic Insight Partners (3), and Sources of Competitive Advantage (4). The study found that only about 10% of departments fell in stages 3 and 4.

Strategic Partnership Progress

Cambiar and the Yale Center for Customer Insights joined with BCG to update the study in late 2015. They found that some progress had been made, as 15% of insights departments were considered in Stage 3 and 5% in Stage 4. Interestingly, the defining point when looking at top performing departments is that they consistently measure the ROI of their insights in a quantitative way.

The defining point when looking at top performing departments is that they consistently measure the ROI of their insights in a quantitative way.

There is no shortage of bad ideas nor executives who prefer to trust gut instinct over spending on consumer insights. It’s up to the insights team to show how they can help their business partners look smarter, make better decisions, and improve the probability of success.

The Benefits and Barriers of Measuring ROI
The panelists stressed that the ROI of insights is not about conducting research cheaper and faster. In fact, simply completing the same number of projects typically done in a year for less cost is not generating a positive ROI. Rather ROI is about the impact the insights team has had on business performance and measuring that impact.

This leads to the importance of truly defining the business issue before starting any project. Insights teams and their business partners aren’t always good at doing that, but it is a critical step in being able to design a project that will deliver the insights needed to make an impact.

Insights teams and their business partners aren’t always good at defining the business issue, but it is a critical step in being able to design a project that will deliver the insights needed to make an impact.

The teams that have reached Stage 3 & 4 have realized a number of benefits through measuring ROI.  They report:

  • Increased stakeholder satisfaction
  • Greater budget and more control over the budget
  • More freedom to innovate and initiate strategic work
  • Increased resources
  • A seat at the strategy table

If ROI measurement is so valuable, why are so few measuring it?

One big reason is that nearly half of departments are still at Stage 1: either newer teams or are just “order takers” conducting research that is requested by their business partners without clearly identifying the business issue that needs to be addressed.  In stages 1 & 2 researchers are doing a lot of DIY research, running tables, and creating charts. In stages 3 & 4 there is more talking to partners about the key decisions that need to be made. The quality of work improves as you move up the scale.

Secondly, inertia is an issue. The belief that you can’t measure insights ROI – “a lot happens between conducting the research and market action” – making it impossible to quantify the impact.

Measurement Framework
The experts recommend using the following framework for measuring ROI and the business impact of insights. This framework is detailed in GRBN’s Invest in Insights Handbook which also provides some great “how to’s” for measuring ROI.

ROI of Insights Framework

  • Dimension 1 Granularity: Build ROI measurement from the ground up using 4 levels of granularity: Projects, Business Decisions, Business Lines and Overall Strategic Priorities.
  • Dimension 2 Perspective: While its preferable to use an actual ROI, its typically more feasible to create a forecast ROI. This is largely due to the time lag between completion of a research project and getting a product to market. They point out that all companies use forecasting for budgeting sales revenue and expenses, the insights department should be able to forecast potential revenue or cost savings based on the insights derived from a research project. Not every ROI measurement will be 100% accurate, but it’s a good step in starting to quantify impact.
  • Dimension 3 Shades of ROI: This is the most critical of the three dimensions, as it serves to address the reason many don’t seek to measure ROI at all – much of our work can’t be measured on a financial basis. Anecdotes, feedback from leadership, and surrogate measures should all be considered.
All companies use forecasting for budgeting, the insights department should forecast potential revenue or cost savings based on the insights derived from a research project.

Thus, the team recommends considering surrogate measures of ROI such as customer retention, preference, willingness to recommend, awareness, ad likeability, and brand tracking. These might not measure financial ROI, but they are strong, quantifiable measurements of likely consumer actions.

The speakers also emphasized the following to achieve successful ROI measurements:

  1. Take the long term view of projects versus only looking at the next quarter. Think about research done in the past 1-2 years and report on how the present results were impacted by the research.
  2. Don’t try to measure ROI in isolation. It can only be achieved by working with stakeholders and business partners – finance, accounting, marketing, and sales can all help with forecasting and feedback on projects.
  3. Strive to get out of the business of “doing” and become “thinkers.” Form coalitions with teams. Business leaders will respond positively if you tell them you want to quantify the decisions research is helping them make.

By measuring the ROI of Insights, the insights team strengthens the understanding of the value of research throughout the organization and proves its professional worth. In this way, the insights team can become strategic partners of leadership and a source of competitive advantage for their companies.

Getting started with measuring and reporting on the ROI of Insights can feel like a daunting task. GRBN understands this and together with its partners, including Cambiar, offer a number of services, aimed at making it easy for Insights leaders to get started and achieve tangible results.  Contact Andrew Cannon,, to find out how GRBN can help you build your business impact.

Olivetree Insights’ InsightsCentral software tool builds engagement at the design stage of a project so you consistently align and define key business objectives and build the input needed for tracking ROI. Try it FREE for 60 days, just email .

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Build your foresight planning skills
Build Your Foresight Muscles with Scenario Planning

Insights Association and Olivetree Insights webinar series: “Insights, A Source of Strategic Leadership”

While 72% of brands say they are future-focused, 70% say they are not willing to sacrifice short-term gains to invest in long-term benefits. The results of this recent survey of business decision makers show the wide gap between recognizing business challenges and taking the necessary steps to create new opportunities.

Are insights professionals doing enough to prepare our business leaders for the future? Is sharing what’s happening in the marketplace today enough to inform decisions that will have ramifications 6 months, a year, multiple years down the road?

These questions were addressed by two insights leaders in the 4th session of a five-part Insights Association and Olivetree Insights webinar series: ‘Insights, A Source of Strategic Leadership.’   The following is a recap of the key points from each presenter.

Piotr Szymski, Vice President, Insights/Business Intelligence & Catalog, Sony Music Entertainment

Piotr kicked off the session with a definition of three key terms – Hindsight, Insight, Foresight – learned during his days at P&G:

  • Hindsight are learnings and insights based on the past. This can help build understanding but is less actionable than insight or foresight.
  • Insight is an understanding of the nature of things as they exist today. In business, it covers  what customers do, decisions they make, how they behave, and why they do what they do.
  • Foresight is about what will happen in the future. And importantly considering how we build hypotheses about the future to inform better decisions.

Foresight is more critical than hindsight or insight because we live in a world of disruption, rapid innovation, and complexity. Whole industries have been caught unaware: photography by the advent of cameras in phones; taxis with Uber. In fact, the same lack of foresight affected the music industry as it wasn’t on the leading edge of innovation and was severely impacted by piracy issues, iTunes, and streaming.  Industry revenue fell off a cliff and it required the technology sector to come in and save the day.

Piotr’s experience in numerous industries convinced him of the importance of the Insights team having a leadership role in foresight planning. He believes that the objective, consultative, and deep understanding they have about consumers means that marketing researchers are well equipped to lead foresight initiatives. However, he also adds that it is critical that all key functions are involved and contributing to future-focused efforts, such as – finance, sales, operations, manufacturing, etc.

Some future-focused methodologies Piotr recommends that researchers build expertise around includes:

  • Trend work
  • Forecasting
  • Scenario planning

In particular, scenario planning is an area that Piotr believes should be embraced by insights teams. Scenario planning is a foresight technique that relies on using multiple hypotheses to create potential scenarios about the marketplace.

He cites examples of using scenario planning in the music industry, where there is limited research for upcoming releases and labels need to be ready for different scenarios based on the initial reaction of audiences to the music that is distributed.  With this pre-planning, he can help prepare his leadership team to jump on opportunities quickly and maximize outcomes.

Chris Grabarkiewicz-Davis, Partner, Olivetree Insights

Chris provided an overview of scenario planning and two case studies.  Scenario planning provides forecasts that are very different from the risk management forecasts provided when we cite research learnings like “25%, give or take 5 pts., are likely to buy our product based on survey results.”   This type of forecast doesn’t account for the multiple circumstances (competitive, technology, social, etc.) that a new product might face.

Scenario planning is instead based on considering multiple future scenarios to facilitate better decisions.

Scenario planning:

  • Requires laying out facts, assumptions, conditions and linking them to business.
  • Pushes people to step outside of their hypotheses/biases and avoids group think.
  • Scenarios help cross functional partners look at research from a business versus functional perspective.
  • It helps them see the impact and trade-off of each alternative and gain internal alignment which is often missing from research findings.

Chris provided an overview of the four key steps in scenario planning: identify the focal topic, prepare the team (existing primary and secondary research), build scenarios (identify driving forces, critical uncertainties, and plausible scenarios), and create plans based on an analysis of implications.  She then applied the process to two case studies.

Scenario Building Process

Case #1: Customer Journey Example

The first case was based on a retailer’s shopper journey study used to help marketing bring in more new customers. Should they invest in a new website or outdoor mall signage? Both were identified as customer pain points in the shopper journey.

The insights team used the results of the shopper journey study and in collaboration with finance and others business units, built financial forecasts for each scenario, as well as a “no change in marketing” scenario.  The decision for how to move forward became clearer based on the new information.

CASE #2 – Connect with Millennials Example

The second case was based on reverse-engineering the recent launch of the Capital One Café. The Café was created to “bridge the disconnect in traditional banking with Millennials by providing free coffee (sometimes), free Wi-Fi and if desired….free financial advice.”

In this case, the Capital One team could have considered the key driving industry forces: the growth of Fintechs (like PayPal) and Techfins (like Apple Pay) as well as the decline of the value proposition of traditional banks. They would identify certainties (like the continued importance of credit) and uncertainties (like consumers want more engagement with their credit card company/bank) about the future.  Then, they would construct scenarios around the uncertainties, discuss the common risks and implications across all scenarios, and create future-focused plans….including their launch of the Café’s in test markets.

Help your business leaders build innovative strategies for the future by incorporating scenario planning into your toolkit. Olivetree Insights’ Scenario Planning Workshop will help your team become Scenario Planning pros! Because we guide you in conducting your first workshop, you’ll walk away with not only with the skills and tools to conduct future sessions yourself, but with a set of scenarios that your company can use for future planning. Contact Carol Shea for more information:

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Integrating Data for Better Storytelling
Integrating Data for Powerful Storytelling and Actionable Insights

Insights Association and Olivetree Insights webinar series: “Insights, A Source of Strategic Leadership”

The amount of information floating around organizations from a plethora of sources – marketing research, big data, social listening, business intelligence – can be overwhelming. And decision makers may not have access to the same set of data sources or interpret them in the same way – meaning that they may hold very different perceptions of a category, key trends, and consumer target. This does not foster strategic business planning nor decision making!

This important topic was addressed by two corporate insights executives in the third session of a five part Insights Association and Olivetree Insights webinar series: ‘Insights, A Source of Strategic Leadership.’   The following is a recap of the key points from each presenter.

Cindy Casper, Managing Director, Constituent Knowledge and Insights, Arizona State University Enterprise Marketing Hub

Cindy kicked-off the webinar with her definition of an insight as “the capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing.” With this in mind, she makes the important point that insights aren’t proprietary to marketing research; business intelligence, big data, digital analytics, AI, machine learning, user experience, and social listening are all important sources for understanding consumers.

Yet, she notes that in-house data/research providers often limit widespread access to data to avoid misinterpretation.  Through years of experience at multiple organization, she has learned that researchers can have more impact by sharing and integrating diverse types of information than by data hoarding.

She shared three lessons for integrating multiple sources of data:

  1. Tie data to an important outcome: Cindy shared a recent ASU project which involved using research and data to determine the impact of increased alumni affinity with the university on revenue.
  2. Learn the value of other data: The Marketing Enterprise Hub within ASU created a task force made up of the leaders of the teams involved in data collection and analysis to determine how best to blend data sources to overcome biases of each individual source. The task force looked at the expertise of each source/method; discussed the biases, strengths/weaknesses of the different sources. They created a framework for utilizing each data source – inductive/deductive; small ample/large sample/census; stated/observed/derived. (See the Periodic Table of Insights below)
  3. Create data exchanges and linkages: Cindy champions the insights department “becoming the currency” and not the gatekeeper. She acquired third party data for her team’s use and freely shared it with other university departments who were resource-constrained. This raw data, alumni segment assignments and predicted affinity scores, are now in a data warehouse for utilization across multiple units.

Various Sources of Data

One outcome of this combined effort was the creation of a new product, the Sun Devil Rewards App. Cindy’s team contributed qualitative and quantitative research; data analytics was used during beta testing; agile methods were used to work with alumni in co-creating app improvements; and predictive analytics allowed the team to identify the behavior of alumni that resulted in becoming more engaged contributors to the university.


Michelle Thevil McDonald, Senior Director of Consumer Insights at Clif Bar & Company

When Michelle became the leader of the Clif Bar insights team, she knew it would be important to transition from a team that simply hands over data to a team that leverages insights to drive strategy. To do this, she needed to find ways to increase the impact research had on the organization.

She noted that previous research projects were often of a tactical versus strategic nature; and that the team was not engaging in strategy discussions nor being invited to key meetings.  She and her team embarked on a discovery process to identify what was working and not working and the following presents some of her key learnings.

Like Cindy, Michelle understood the importance of connecting insights work to important business needs. So, she started by identifying one or two key projects that would best showcase the value of Insights when its focused more strategically. Her team uses four filters to identify key research projects:

  • Where is the opportunity for the biggest strategic impact?
  • Where is the opportunity to advance organizational learning the most?
  • Where can we reach the most important stakeholders?
  • Where can we reach the broadest audience?

These filters were so successful, they are now used for developing the annual learning agenda. In fact, Michelle found that her team could have the biggest impact during the annual business planning, so she focused most of her webinar presentation on how the insights team engagement in that process has evolved.

In the past, the annual planning process would kick-off with a series of detailed research presentations (e.g. annual tracking, Nielsen or IRI data, trend data, etc.) to immerse business partners in current  learnings.  Michelle noted two flaws in this approach:

  • By summarizing all the data, the insights team wasn’t creating focus
  • Each business team would interpret the findings differently, and present different stories about competitive and consumer landscapes in justifying their plans

To bring more focus to the planning process, the insights team now starts their presentations with the implications. What are the big so-what’s?  What do we want stakeholders to walk away knowing and taking action on?  From that starting point, the team focuses on what information best illustrates those points and builds the story to support them.

The team’s goal isn’t to summarize everything, but to make judgement calls about what is most important for stakeholders to learn.  Specifically, they look for information that:

  1. Adds dimension and clarity to current strategies. What does our success hinge on?
  2. Addresses mis-information or internal confusion. Where is there danger that the organization will go sideways, or different teams are moving in different directions?
  3. Seeks to identify where the organization can look further upstream. What should we know, but don’t?
  4. Raises provocative questions and questions sacred cows.

This new process allows her team to focus on big picture strategy versus getting bogged down in minutia. It made distilling a year’s worth of data much simpler, saving her team valuable time. And ultimately it made their work more impactful, bringing greater value to their stakeholders.

Michelle was able to judge their success through an increased demand for not just research, but the insights team’s perspective on learnings. And perhaps the greatest testament to their impact is the greater organizational excitement to learn about the consumer so that insights can be applied to improve strategies.

Improve the strategic focus and build an integrated intelligence library for your organization.  Attend Olivetree Insights’ Knowledge Harvest Workshop where experienced consultants can help you create your first integrated intelligence summary and provide a template for you to conduct your own future sessions.  Learn more, contact

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Tips for engaging with stakeholders
New Ways of Engaging Stakeholders: From Design to Deliverables

Insights Association and Olivetree Insights webinar series: “Insights, A Source of Strategic Leadership”

Gaining widespread buy-in and support early in the insights process is critical to ensuring findings have the “legs” to reach the desired goal. So, what are some best-in-class ways to engage stakeholders well in advance of launching projects?

This important topic was addressed by several insights and communication leaders in the 2nd session of a five part Insights Association and Olivetree Insights  webinar series: ‘Insights, A Source of Strategic Leadership.’   The following is a recap of the key points from each presenter.

A Fitness Routine for Insights

Smisha Samra, Director, Grail Insights 

Smisha focused on the importance of thinking about potential insights activation throughout the entire research process, not just once the project is completed.

Design Phase: During this first phase she emphasizes getting stakeholder consensus on “what we know, what we think we know, and what we don’t know.” Hypothesis gathering is useful to assess feasibility, harvest existing knowledge and identify any knowledge gaps.  Identifying the knowledge gaps allows the team to more easily call out the new insights discovered through the research. Using ideation walls or online brainstorming platforms that allow for real-time sharing of everyone’s input helps ensure alignment upfront with stakeholders, buy-in on the research plan and is critical for generating actionable insights that are activated.

Fielding Phase: Staying agile while conducting the research is important to activation, as the team responds to the preliminary learnings. Frequent check-ins with stakeholders is critical. During this phase again, brainstorming platforms are a good way to share the findings and build buy-in on as the team iterates through the process.

Analysis Phase: During the analysis phase, she suggests continuing to work with stakeholders to identify areas of impact, re-evaluate the feasibility of the initiative, and map the insights to actionability and activation. Whenever possible reuse previous learnings that apply to complete the story – this is a good way to activate insights from a previous study. In addition, apply consumer needs oriented frameworks – don’t just think about the product/service in a vacuum but fully understand the consumer environment related to using the product/service.

Activation Phase: Finally, during the Activation phase, collaborate with stakeholders and other relevant outside agencies (advertising, marketing) to implement the action plan agreed to by the project team. Workshops using iterative processes are useful during the Activation phase. And, although there is a great emphasis on dashboards, infographics, and storytelling techniques, make sure that findings are usable and consumable by stakeholders. Don’t lose sight of what will help stakeholders activate findings.

A Case Study Example

Steven Horne, Senior Manager Research Insight, American Dental Association.

Mike Lionetti, Senior Research Assistant, KJT Group.

The American Dental Association, with the help of KJT Group, implemented a new process to align business stakeholders with insights resulting from research studies in order to assure widespread activation.  The team shared their first use of the new process based on a segmentation study that would have broad application throughout the organization.

Before starting the segmentation study, the research team (internal and supplier) met with over 30 stakeholders who would be utilizing the research to clarify what would make the research successful for each of them. This meeting helped to build consensus among the stakeholders and laid the groundwork for buy-in to the research results.

Post-research, the engagement with stakeholders continued. The research team facilitated an on-site workshop, supplemented with collaborative software, with the same ADA stakeholders. The objectives were to actively immerse the stakeholders in the learnings to build buy-in and then to build messaging and an implementation plan.

The workshop was composed of small group immersive work as well as full group presentations and discussions.  The collaborative software platform complemented the in-person workshop.  The platform was used to brainstorm what the main unmet needs for each segment were, the main value propositions the ADA could provide, and suggestions for names of the segments.

The software allowed stakeholders to make comments anonymously, so they could be candid and avoid groupthink. The tool also helped the team prioritize key themes rapidly, and facilitated stakeholder consensus more quickly.

Feedback from the session was overwhelmingly positive. The software tool was new, collaborative, engaging and even entertaining. Getting the stakeholders deeply integrated in the process and the strategy served to vest them in the outcomes. The level of support and integration was higher than the team had seen following most research projects.

Framing Difficult Conversations with Stakeholders

Greg Owen-Boger, VP, Turpin Communication.

The webinar wrapped up with a useful communications framework: “The Orderly Conversation Process.” The framework contains two phases: “Orderly” which is the planning phase when one looks ahead to the uncertainties of the conversation and “Conversation” which is when one must adapt what was planned to what’s happening in the moment.

Preparation (the Orderly phase) is particularly critical in difficult conversations, e.g. when you are about to provide surprising findings (in a negative way!) or need to address challenges in field research.  Framing what you need to present by thinking about your target audience’s current situation, the goal of the conversation, the agenda, and the benefits to them goes a long way to mitigate potential problems.

Importantly, Greg recommends working to anticipate what questions you may be asked and any uncertainties that might come up. As the old expression says, “forewarned is forearmed.”

An example of this process is:

  • Current Situation – We’ve been conducting research on XYZ. Some of the findings have been surprising.
  • Goal – Share the objectives of the research; acknowledge some of the information might be difficult to hear.
  • Agenda – Highlight the key points to be covered.
  • Benefits – The team will be able to make more informed decisions after hearing the results.

Finally, the higher the stakes of the meeting or presentation the greater the need to frame the conversation. Make sure you organize your thoughts and set the context for your stakeholders. Using such a process can be helpful in coaching less experienced team members in preparing their presentations.

Improve the effectiveness and efficiency of your insights team strengthening engagement with your stakeholders. Our InsightsCentral software tool builds engagement at the design stage of a project so you consistently align with key business objectives and impact decision making in your organization. Try it FREE for 60 days, just email


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Who does what and how - Olivetree Insights
Define who does what and how, to avoid major spills

The role of insights in the organization is evolving so quickly it can be hard to keep up. Data sources outside of the insights team (e.g. social media from marketing, analytics from sales) compete for leadership attention. The availability of “free marketing research” means that well-meaning but untrained business partners are doing their own research. Our insights teams have access to new capabilities like blended data, geo-fencing, and AI-informed qualitative research, but this might not be known or understood by business partners.

Identifying roles, responsibilities, and principles can help business leaders understand how to get the best insights on which to make decisions. It can also help guide insights team leaders and members in how to bridge gaps between “the old ways” and “the new ways.”

This third and final part of our blog series on creating an Insights Team Charter covers Roles, Responsibilities and Principles: who should be doing what and how.

It can seem basic, but in an ever-changing environment, where a proliferation of DIY research tools make it easier for business partners to conduct their own “down and dirty” research, spelling out who is doing what for whom is important to avoiding confusion and distrust.

What can key stakeholders expect from the insights? Here are examples of the types of role statements that clarify what to expect from the insights team:

  • Deliver actionable insights built on a strong foundation of data and processes to establish results integrity.
  • Recommend best practices and standardized approaches when it makes sense, in order to support consistent, fact-based decision making.
  • Provide guidance to contractors and internal DIY researchers.

And, a couple of examples of what not to expect from an insights team, depending on staffing, expertise, etc.:

  • Staffing to support in-house execution of sophisticated analysis.
  • Resources to moderate focus groups.


It is critical that the insights team lay out the specific duties and obligations related to each person’s role – the responsibilities they will take on for the organization.  Two of the most common ways to structure insights team responsibilities are:

  • By role: Primary research, Secondary research, Data analytics
  • By subject matter expertise: for a business unit, brand, or division

Another way to define responsibilities in the context of roles is based on a project management framework: RACI.

To clarify Roles and Responsibilities, some use a RACI framework

A RACI matrix gives you a better way to describe your multi-project work and how to work together effectively and efficiently to deliver insights that drive decisions. The core purpose of a RACI matrix is to create clarity across roles. Here’s what RACI stands for:

Responsible – The person or position responsible for doing the activity (the work).

Accountable – The person or position accountable to ensure the activity happens. If things go wrong “it’s their head on the chopping block.”

Consulted – The person or position who should be consulted prior to a decision or action being taken.

Informed – The person or position that needs to be informed after completion of the task or decision is made.

The matrix is created by listing all the steps in the project down and the people involved across the top.  Then, each RACI role is defined as shown in the table below:

Project Step Insights Team Leader Insights Team Project Leader Insights Team Analyst Business Partner A Business Partner B
Major Task 1 R R C A C
Major Task 2 A R I C I
Major Task 3 C A R C I

When working through the process, it becomes easy to identify potential conflict areas and ambiguities so that they can be addressed.  You will quickly learn how people’s perceptions differ from each other and discover a better way of working together.

Here’s a resource for using the RACI matrix:


This is the section where you clarify how the work gets done.  Having consistent processes and procedures that everyone has agreed to helps keep your team on schedule and productive.

Examples include:

  • Consulting engagements start with a brief that functions as a contract between the insights team and business partner.
  • Research integrity fits with the degree of risk.
  • Research expenditures are prioritized for funding based upon the following criteria:
    • Estimates sales impact
    • Actionability of the results
    • Global reapplication

As the workplace becomes more complex and inter-connected, defining the insights’ team member roles, responsibilities, and principles as part of the Team Charter becomes essential to avoid conflicts and misunderstandings with colleagues.

We hope you’ve gotten value out of this Team Charter series. For help in creating your own Team Charter, request more information on our Insights Team Charter Workshop, or email


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Set better KPIs to improve
Set Better KPI’s to Improve and Score More Wins

The advantage of handicap scores in golf is that they provide a universally understood measure of what’s good and what’s not. Not being a golfer myself, even I know that my husband’s 10 handicap is good, but he isn’t going to make the tour anytime soon.  Having this measure allows my husband to identify areas for improvement and even new tools and techniques to make those improvements.

All companies use measures of success, commonly referred to as Key Performance Indicator (KPI’s) like profit margin or share growth or Net Promoter Score. What they have in common is that they are meaningful measures that help the company track their success and identify areas for improvement.

KPI’s can also define a team’s success, as the team decides what success looks like and how it will be measured.

Sample MR Team Success Measures

What are the most common KPI’s for marketing research and analytical teams? When I posted this question to an online researcher forum, it seemed that there were two categories of success:

  1. Success defined as satisfying business needs (with some sample KPIs):
    • Financial impact (sales or reduce cost) resulting from use of the insights
      • ROI – impact on revenue, costs, growth
      • Ratings survey asking key stakeholders how well expectations were met on overall satisfaction and business impact
    • Business decisions are made / action is taken on the basis of research
      • Business partner increased confidence in decisions
    • The marketing research team builds retention and referral
      • Repeat business, referrals
  2. Success defines as satisfying project needs (with sample KPI’s):
    • On-time and within allocated resources (person-hours and budget)
      • Project management statistics such as planned value and cost performance index

Develop Your Team’s KPI’s

To develop your own KPI’s, we recommend basing them on your team’s mission statement and consider ‘how would we know we’ve achieved success?’ against each statement.

Here’s a few sample measures against corresponding mission statements. Lots of different ways to look at measures, so there’s flexibility to consider what would work for your organization.

Sample Mission Statements Sample KPI’s
Deliver insights that help the company grow.
  • Financial ROI metrics tied to the accumulated impact of insights.
  • Attitudinal metrics based on stated impact on decisions and resulting sales.
  • (Go to for more details on ROI metrics)
Embed customer voice into heart of business.
  • 100% of annual business plans include voice of customer.
  • Business stakeholders quote consumers in at least 75% of all planning meetings.
Deliver insights that drive more confident business decisions.
  • At least 80% of business partners agree that research improved their confidence in making business decisions.
Deliver proactive consulting to help the company innovate.
  • The Insights team identifies at least one consumer problem per year worthy of further investigation.
  • The Insights team leads a scenario planning session annually to identify innovation opportunities.

If you compare what’s shown in these samples above to the samples provided in the online researcher forum, you’ll notice the lack of project management related KPI’s.  Certainly, its important to deliver projects on time and in budget and there must be measures in place to ensure this happens.  But using these measures as KPI’s for achieving your team’s mission can only “lead to diminishing returns, which leads to cuts in both budget and headcount, which leads to diminishing impact on the business, therefore creating a negative cycle which is hard to break,” as stated by Andrew Cannon of GRBN.

Finalize Your Team’s KPI’s

Once you have brainstormed several KPI’s for each mission statement, then finalize the ones you will use based on judging the merit of each based on:

  • Aligned: Not only aligned with the team’s mission statement but also with the organization’s measurement processes.
  • Attainable: Is the KPI measurable? How realistic is it to capture this measure reliably and consistently?
  • Relevance: Will this KPI motivate and energize your team to focus on the right work? Will stakeholders agree that your team is successful if you meet the standards defined in the KPI’s?

Just like my husband’s success measures aren’t right for all golfers, the right KPI’s for your team won’t necessarily look like the KPI’s for other teams.  But once you have the right KPI’s and measurement in place, you can ensure that you will have the performance data you need to evaluate success and define meaningful improvement areas.

The Payoff: Score More Wins

The old adage “what gets measured gets done” is the first payoff for strengthening your team’s KPI’s.  Once you start tracking KPI’s you’ll be able to more quickly identify opportunities to improve. As you improve, you’ll be able to provide these proof points to your business partners, especially funders, showing how research and analytics is moving the business forward.  The outcome is having the right level of resources allocated to the function and who doesn’t want that?!

In case you missed it, here’s a link to our first blog in this series, Set Big Goals to Build a More Engaged Insights Team.

Our next blog will cover Roles, Responsibilities, and Principles: who should be doing what, for whom, and how.

If you want help creating your Team Charter, sign up for our Start with the Foundation Workshop or email


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Best practices for allocating research resources
Time to Say No? 3 Ways to Make Better Resource Allocation Decisions

When Tracy, the Insights Director for a small but mighty research and analytics team, was approached by a brand manager with a research request she was all ears.  But she was deflated after learning that the research would be used to validate a decision that had already been made. Slipping in one more research project was possible but would put a strain on her team. And was this really a good use of corporate resources?

We’ve all been in her shoes at one point or another, and here’s some speculation on what Tracy might be thinking:

    • Let’s say Tracy does the research:
      • Will it limit the team’s ability to do something else that could have more impact on other decisions that need to be made?
      • If it invalidates the decision that has been made, is it even possible to take corrective action, or is it already too late?
    • Let’s say Tracy doesn’t do the research:
      • Will it hurt her credibility with the business partner?
      • Will the business partner simply find another avenue for getting the research done; and perhaps not done well?

What would you advise Tracy to do?

To help answer that question, here are three best practices to help balance the business’s needs for insights to support improved decisions and the reality of limited time and money.

1. Develop, share and stick to a Team Charter that identifies how projects will be prioritized. For example, a Charter that’s co-developed with insights and business leaders could identify how research and analytical resources will be allocated to activities that are ‘more deserving’ based on criteria such as the following:

      • Fits within strategic goals
      • Will be used to improve high value business decisions
      • Has a payoff within two years

A Charter that includes these types of prioritization guidelines in the Principles section is an excellent way to focus teams on when and why to consider research. It provides the context for a discussion between the Insights team and the business partner to address whether or not the value in the research outcome is worth the effort, and to what degree. (Read more about a Team Charter in our last blog)

Team Charter Components

2. Use a disciplined process to probe the need and use of the resulting information from the business partner, such as one outlined in our Smart Insights Brief process.  Specifically, it would be important to identify the responses to such questions as:

      • In what ways will the research be used to make better decisions?
      • How impactful will the learnings be on the decisions?
      • Is there existing information that would suffice?
      • Can available methodologies answer the key questions?

Clarifying the business partner’s needs and intentions can sometimes be enough to assess the role of research in assisting with a decision. (Read more about the Smart Insights Brief)

Smart Insights Brief

3. Utilize a Decision Model Scoring System.  It’s typically not as simple as a “yes” or “no” decision on whether or not to do research, but rather a question of how much time and money to allocate. The Insights team could create a scoring system that fairly and quickly helps to prioritize projects based on how much value they bring to the organization as well as its feasibility.

The Olivetree Insights team has developed a model based on the following three steps:

      • Score Fit and Impact: Score the research need on how closely it addresses a strategic initiative; how impactful (financial threat or opportunity) it is to the company and the impact breadth (how widely the results can be applied across the company)
      • Score Actionability: Score the research need based on the decision stage and risk of a bad decision.
      • Methodology Considerations:  Are there other sources of existing information that could suffice? Is it a researchable question? Is there enough time and resources available to address the topic adequately?

Decision Scoring Model

We’re seeking beta testers of our Decision Model Scoring System. Let us know if you want a free trial.

Whatever process an insights team uses to guide resource allocation discussions, there will be instances where the business partner has to be told no.  Having an established and shared process can take some of the emotion out of the decision, but it can still be tough to say no! We don’t want to disappoint our colleagues; that’s just human nature.

So when you must say no, also work to find a yes. Perhaps there’s trade articles or other secondary research sources that could shed light on the topic. Share former research that might provide answers; reach out to other research/brand members for ideas; or guide them with DIY research.

Each of these techniques serves to set the team up for successful resource discussions because much of the heavy lifting– standards about when to allocate research/analytics funds – have already been made.  So now Tracy can have a great conversation with the business partner and jointly determine how best to use limited resources.

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How to Avoid Sacrificing Reliability in Agile MR: A Case Study

Some people interpret agile research as fast and cheap. Insights professionals know it must be better than that. Yes, it must be fast enough to work within tight, agile time frames; and cost effective to be conducted for multiple iterations, but the research can’t be managed in a way that the results aren’t reliable. There is no value in completing research quickly if it fails to deliver valid findings!

Agile management processes require a different approach to research and analysis, exemplified by this case in which an auto insurance company insights team works to improve the online application process after receiving numerous complaints. The insights and business teams worked seamlessly together, successfully implementing an agile approach to improvements, because they were aligned from the start on the goals and success metrics of the research.

Agile Project Management

To understand Agile, you need to first consider project management processes for traditional product development. The traditional or waterfall process relies on a linear method based on stage gates such as Idea to Concept to Business Case to Development to Testing to Launch. Customer insight is sought at established points in time.

Software developers were frustrated with this approach as it took too long to develop innovative products and once they did; they often couldn’t keep up with customer needs. As agile processes have become the norm for software companies like Apple and IBM; non-software companies like AT&T, Phillips, and John Deere have begun to adopt the processes.

Agile project management is based on an iterative product development life cycle – where every project is managed collaboratively and in small parts.

Agile project management is a based on an iterative product development life cycle – where every project is managed collaboratively and in small parts to reduce friction and keep moving in the right direction.  Unlike traditional methods, the product doesn’t need to be perfect before its launched. Instead, you launch a “minimally viable product” – one that provides a value to the customer.  Then, you make continuous product iterations based on customer feedback with every iteration.

Agile is a particularly useful methodology where products will be developed to solve complex problems and in rapidly changing marketplace environments. Agile seeks to help organizations make better decisions and solve issues more effectively with less wasted time and resources.

The key process for Agile is:

  • Validate assumptions via Minimal Viable Product (MVP)
  • Define and prioritize a list (or backlog) of improvements
  • Roll out and test; roll out and test; roll out and test; etc.

Marketing Research in an Agile Environment

Here’s a case study that exemplifies how an insights team works within an Agile environment.

The Scene

An auto insurance company wanted to improve their online customer application process. Customers had been complaining that it was taking too long to get their online application approved and internally, they knew that their processes were inefficient. The  team planned to use Agile management processes and they sought the advice of the Insights Team for customer input.

Insights Scope

The Insights Team used the DecisionAdvancer Smart Insights Brief with the Application Team to get clarity on the current situation as well as their goals and expectations for customer input. They worked with the Application team to define the problem and to document the backlog list of challenges and improvements associated with application process based on previous input from customers, sales agents, and customer service reps.

They also documented success metrics to identify ways to improve the insights development process in the future and how the insights research and analysis impacted the new application process.

Iterative Development

The teams prioritized the elements on which to work and mapped out the process in ‘sprints’ (e.g. two-week planning cycles).  Once a research sprint was completed the insights are fed into a development sprint (for the MVP), and the next research sprint takes place. This continued until the goals were accomplished.

The research and analytical tools employed by the insights team had to be:

  • cheap enough to conduct for each iteration,
  • fast enough to fit into tight timeframes (a couple of weeks, not months), and
  • easy to decipher.

However, “agile marketing research” should not mean conducting the research so quickly and cheaply that its not reliable.  You want to learn from product iterations that “fail fast,” not from “fast failing” research!  (Read the NewMR blog post for more on this).

“Agile marketing research” should not mean conducting the research so quickly and cheaply that its not reliable.

The insights team established an online community of customers to conduct research during the sprint periods.  Depending on the issue they needed to explore, they sometimes used video chats to speak one-on-one with the panelists, sometimes used a discussion board format; and sometimes they used short surveys.  The analytical team was also quite involved, as often the team needed internal data to feed decisions.

Each research sprint yielded new insights to build on the former ones.  The insights team kept their Application team members up-to-date and aligned on the study objectives and methodology for each sprint using the DecisionAdvancer platform.


Because the goals and expectations were so clearly aligned from the start, the Insights and Application teams worked seamlessly together and so the process was frictionless.  The Insights Team was able to guide the Application Team to make the optimal customer-based decisions. The redesigned customer application process resulted in more online applications and fewer customer service rep time.  Because success measures were identified in the initial planning stage and careful track was kept of how learnings informed decisions, both the Application Team and the Insights Department were able to measure the ROI of their research investment. As a bonus, they identified new ways to improve the insights process for future projects.

The DecisionAdvancer Difference

This Insights Team was up to the Application improvement challenge. They knew they could rely on DecisionAdvancer’s Smart Insights Brief to keep the teams focused on the right problems and opportunities from the very beginning of the project. The Insights Team confidently delivered actionable insights that were properly aligned with organizational objectives. The Application team was appreciative of a process that resulted in an improved, customer-centric application using Agile management.  The auto insurance company was assured that their research resources had been used wisely.

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