Amplify Improvements

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.


Are you interested in offering your thoughts on the marketing insights ROI topic? Email if you’d like to participate in a Q&A article on the topic.

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