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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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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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Three takeaways for increasing the impact of insights
MRMW 2019 Recap: 3 Takeaways for increasing the impact of insights

Our team was honored to be represented both as a speaker and as a panelist at last week’s MRMW conference. We also had the opportunity to attend almost all of the sessions, the glory of single-track conferences!

Since our focus is amplifying the impact of insights teams, we’ve summarized three key takeaways:

Faster, cheaper… corrupt?

Online, mobile, and new analytical tools help us conduct research with consumers cheaper and faster than ever before. In the sessions we heard how Foursquare helps reveal how people move through the real world, Black Swan uses artificial intelligence to make sense of social data, and QualSights helps to capture qualitative consumer moments in real time.

Yet one researcher at the conference shone a light on a key risk – whom are we studying?

Tia Maurer, Group Scientist at Procter & Gamble estimates that 15% of all online survey respondents are actually bots in money-making operations.  She recommends that we build in quality control questions (e.g. ask for age categories as well as open ended age to see if they match) as well as utilize tools such as honeypots.

This kind of data corruption might not be as obvious in social media and data analytics today, but we need to be cognizant of the potential and on top of solutions should it arise.

Synthesized Intelligence is here to stay

Synthesizing and triangulating the learnings from multiple sources – behavioral, social media, qualitative and quantitative – is the best way to build marketplace truths that lead to business growth. As Kirti Singh, Procter & Gamble’s Chief Analytics & Insights Officer explained, P&G has evolved how they learn about the consumer. Today’s focus is on observing, listening, and empathizing through multiple techniques such as analytics, experimentation, and marketing research technology.

A panel composed of representatives from Activision Blizzard Entertainment, the Garage Group, and Olivetree Insights shared multiple ways in which passive data (social media, online product reviews, sales data) could be combined with primary research.

Triangulating the learnings from multiple sources lead to stronger conclusions which have more credibility with business partners. This in turn leads business partners to make market-informed decisions more confidently.

Integrating Insights into the Business Remains a Challenge

Rama Mallika, Senior Director, Head of Market Research, Analytics & Insights at PayPal commented on the difficulties of building deeper connections between marketing researchers and business partners. The rhythms of business decision-making can be difficult to keep up with, and data literacy can be weak among our business partners. How do we bridge this gap? He suggests a three-prong approach: build cross-functional competence among insights team members, be more tangible on what marketing research can accomplish, and inspire our business partners to use the insights for improved business outcomes.

Justin Coates, Consumer Insight Leader at Eastman Chemical Company expressed a similar theme of needing to connect more strongly with their business partners.  One of his inspired techniques was to engage business partners to champion research insights across the organization.

In the Olivetree Insights presentation, our team recommended conducting Knowledge Harvest workshops as one way of both synthesizing multiple data sources into key insights as well as integrating those insights into the business.

Overall, the MRMW conference was enlightening and enjoyable.

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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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4 Strategies for Elevating Insights
Four Strategies for Elevating Insights: CRC 2018 Recap

With over 70 sessions across six tracks, the Insights Association’s 2018 Corporate Researchers Conference was jammed packed with learnings!  Since our focus is amplifying the impact of corporate insights teams, we’ve summarized four strategies covered for elevating the insights function: strengthen strategic alignment, democratize insights, measure business impact, and market the insights team. (Note: quotations are paraphrases)

Strengthen Strategic Alignment

If we want marketing research and analytics to drive strategy, then our insights projects and initiatives must be aligned with corporate strategies. Several recommendations were made to strengthen strategic alignment.

  • Jackie Chan of Prudential Financial defined being a strategic partner as having insights at the center of every strategic business decision that is made, from fueling innovation to optimizing customer experience. “For Prudential, we are called upon for cross-functional business acumen. Being heard and acted upon requires strong influence and storytelling skills, skills that haven’t been traditionally found in the research talent profile. We’ve re-branded internally as the Decisions Insights Group to focus on the final deliverable.”
  • Paula Brant of MetLife suggests connecting more closely with business partners. “When I first started at MetLife, I would ask a lot of ‘Why?’ questions. ‘Why do we need to do X? I don’t know how X is being used.’ The best decisions start with the end in mind, not one small piece, but thinking of the project overall. The other thing we’ve done a lot is really bring in our stakeholders. How do you have them be part of that team? Once you get to the end, the actual implementation goes so much faster. They become your advocate.”
  • The Olivetree Insights team recommended the consistent use of a thorough Insights Brief to ensure strategic alignment with corporate initiatives. The brief encourages starting with the end in mind; defining what decisions need to be made and action(s) that could be taken. The brief makes the process less politically charged and more fact based; and functions as a contract between insights and business leaders. (For a recommended Smart Insights Brief template, Contact Us)

Democratize Insights

Insights-based decisions is the driver for sustainable corporate growth. The more deeply business leaders are in tune with current customer and marketplace insights, the better decisions they can make.

  • The Insights team can help democratize insights by working more collaboratively with other sources of information throughout the organization.
    • Lisa Courtrade at Merck commented that “Twenty years ago, we were the main way to talk with customers. Now data is everywhere, almost like oxygen, sales data, big data… if you are only presenting primary market research then you are not giving the holistic picture of what is happening. It’s really necessary.” She recommends that marketing research teams work more closely with other insights-oriented teams.  “We succeed together or fail separately.”
  • The Insights team can help democratize insights by becoming knowledge ambassadors and providing an easily accessible source of truth.
    • Sydney Leonard at Southwest Airlines shared her experiences launching and running a knowledge management platform. She spoke of wasted hours searching for reports to share with business partners; forgotten studies leading to unnecessary duplicative research; and a lack of trust in sharing information. So, they assessed their business partner’s needs and appetite for a central source of information. Based on this understanding, they worked with Bloomfire to create “The Source,” a single source where all studies could be found with easy Google-like searching.
    • She and her team are active leaders in ensuring proper use of the knowledge base including educational sessions and games to incentivize usage, as well as encouraging business leaders to reach out to the insights team for important context and consulting on the information they use.

Measure Business Impact

Andrew Cannon of GRBN and Simon Chadwick of Cambiar led a panel to discuss the concrete actions insights teams can take to measure, demonstrate, and build the impact they are having on the business. Several key recommendations regarding measuring business impact included:

  • Lisa Courtade of Merck said, “Measuring the impact to the number of dollars spent per FTE, like running a factory, commoditizes the value of the work that we do. How do you make insights a competitive advantage? You make it a competitive advantage by focusing on what the business wants to achieve: grow a market, accelerate a launch, develop a competitive position that grows your business share. That is more important than the throughput of the department.”
  • Kelly Bowie of Guardian Life said, “We have metrics and measurement aligned to all our strategic initiatives. If it is not aligned, it doesn’t get done. We have ROI and measurement embedded in our bonus structure.”
  • Andrew Cannon shared GRBN’s ROI framework and several ways for insights teams to measure ROI beyond financial ROI to include such measures as growing brand affinity and customer satisfaction. Andrew has created a knowledge hub for practical guidance and useful reports for measuring and demonstrating ROI:

The Olivetree Insights team shared a process for connecting the expected uses of research and analytics projects, documented in an online Insights Brief, with the actual uses of the insights and resulting business impact. (For a recommended Smart Insights Brief template, Contact Us)

Market the Insights Team

Insights professionals take pride in their role as insight discoverers and sharers but don’t often sing their own praises in the important role they play in companies.

  • Paula Brant of MetLife says, “It’s funny for research insights types. It’s not in our DNA to really want to be out there saying ‘this is what I did’. I push myself and our teams. I push our teams to really lead. Own our work in a collaborative way…having those champions to be bold and be proud for you as well.”
  • Jackie Chan of Prudential Financial adds, “We’re uncomfortable singing our own praises, but it’s critical. To make it less uncomfortable, my job as a leader is to motivate and engage the team. Part of my job is marketing our work: we do it in a number of different ways, through consistent branding and identity across all our deliverables, ensuring our work is cited and sourced. We include impact audits at the close of the study, with the team and with the business owners: what was the impact on the business?”

Want to learn more ways to amplify the impact of your insights team?   Reach out to schedule a time discuss ideas with one of our Olivetree Insights Coaches.

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Why Measuring ROI Will Be Essential for the Future of Insights Pros

Do you measure the ROI of your research expenditures?  If you are like 90% of insights pros, the answer is “not exactly.” Insights teams typically rely on softer key performance indicators (KPI’s) such as meeting timelines and conducting more research on stagnant or reduced budgets.

However, the marketing function as a whole is getting much savvier about measuring ROI.  Methodologies can include single attribution with revenue cycle projection, attribution across multiple programs, and full market mix modeling. That said, marketing management isn’t actively challenging the insights function to provide them with ROI. So, should the insights function take ROI measurement more seriously?

We interview Brett Hagins, who has spent the last decade studying, writing and supporting insights teams with ROI for his opinion.

Why isn’t ROI a widely accepted and reported measure of success for the MR/Insights industry?  After all, just about every other marketing-related function is subject to ROI-type KPI’s and we are a numbers-savvy group!

It is difficult and inexact to isolate the net contribution from research as part of the process leading to incremental revenue, market share, cost reduction, or risk mitigation. However, it is critical to justifying budgets and staff and prevents research from descending into a perceived commodity.

As an industry, we’ve managed to get along for the last 75 years without measuring ROI.  So, why bother with it now? 

Marketing ROI is a lot more scientific now than it was decades ago and research ROI has to follow. When the IOT is truly mainstream in a few years and the distinction between the digital and analogue world becomes meaningless, behavioral measurement of all marketing activities will be constant for most enterprises. Many traditional researchers believe that survey research will always be needed because it tells us the “why.” A focus on Return on Investment means the “what” is more important than the why and if companies don’t take action on the why it becomes academic.

What would you advise insights professionals do if they want to get started in ROI measurement?

Start tracking baseline attitudes and decisions in the absence of research using some kind of regular process so that you can document changes or uncertainty reduction as a result of the research. Learning often seems obvious in retrospect and showing how collective thinking has changed over time which led to different decisions or reduced risk is important.

What are the biggest cultural barriers to measuring ROI?

Getting a commitment from senior management that research will be used to drive decisions rather than validate them is important. Insights and analytics departments must negotiate a process for decision-making independently of any specific project. How will executives go about making decisions? What are the action standards? Establishing a system for this at the outset and then integrating research as a part of the larger system is what leads to ROI.


About Brett: Brett Hagins served in leadership roles on the client-side for Texas Instruments and EDS. He has been published extensively in Quirks and conducted top-rated webinars on quantifying the financial impact of research. Hagins was a top rated speaker at the Corporate Researchers Conference and his work on linking research with financial performance has been referenced in two market research textbooks. He has a Master of Science in Market Research from the University of Texas where he has served as a guest lecturer and Research Innovation and ROI, Inc. was the first company to be an approved provider for PRC training credit through the MRA.


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