Leaders are awash in data and information from a rapid and relatively inexpensive proliferation of sources. But they are often surrounded by people and systems ill-equipped to effectively extract, interpret, connect and deliver clear and actionable insights from the data.
The gap between what business leaders need from insights teams and what they are receiving has created a vacuum. And as Aristotle postulated, “nature abhors a vacuum.” Insights organizations can either lead the way and fill this vacuum or watch as others fill it out of necessity.
Experiencing the “creative destruction” that occurs in a rapidly evolving profession can be terrifying (or at least uncomfortable) for insights leaders because it demands change and growth.
We see this vacuum creating a natural space for insights professionals to lead. It is an exciting opportunity to build an insights ecosystem and transform the plethora of data into foresight that leaders can use to take advantage of opportunities or mitigate risk.
The rising insights stars won’t wait for you to transform their role from order-taker to strategic advisor.
How did we get here?
A far back as 10 years ago, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) investigated the barriers to traditional marketing research migrating up the organizational value chain. Their 2009 report identified the continuum of consumer insights performance, with “order taker” at Stage One and “strategic foresight organization” at Stage Four, where they deliver a competitive advantage. BCG found that almost 90 percent of the companies surveyed followed a more traditional approach to market research and were still at Stage One or Two.
At that time, only 34% of line managers agreed that the insights team consistently answered the question “so what” and only 32% agreed that the insights function translated research findings into clear business recommendations for senior executives. Conversely, insight teams felt that line management lacked engagement in the research process. Fewer than half (41 percent) thought that business leaders in their organization would pass a “pop quiz” on important facts about consumers.
Marketing researchers were trapped in the silo of their staff function and lacked an engagement model linking their work strategically to brand and business line decisionmakers.
Fast forward 10 years, and traditional market research/consumer insights organizations are still under tremendous pressure to demonstrate value, and many are still struggling to connect with leaders at a strategic level.
Most companies have embraced “big data” as the most promising lever of change. The volume of data – and the speed with which it must be captured and studied – have sharply shifted investments toward data science and increased the demand for data scientists and statistical analysts. IBM predicts that demand for data scientists and advanced analysts will spike by 28% by 2020, creating a shortage that potentially disrupts ongoing product development, acquisition and go-to-market strategies.
Some insights leaders have made the necessary adjustments to “modernize the shop floor” to harness the dynamic power of data-driven business intelligence. They have diversified their talent sets with staff conversant in data science, social/digital media and evolving insights communities.
But change comes with a cost. We have seen significant headcount reductions in traditional marketing research roles as companies reallocate resources to data science and analytics.
What is Next for Market Research and Consumer Insights?
Do we foresee the end of traditional insights? No, but insights leaders must re-envision the function to encompass a broader, not narrower, set of research and insights disciplines. More to the point, the mere addition of data science and analytics professionals is not the silver-bullet some envision. Success also depends on a strong connection between the insights function with line management, as BCG found in their study.
Forward-thinking organizations are redefining skill sets and redesigning roles to build teams of leaders who are capable of aggregating, collaborating and delivering insights across the business enterprise, even beyond marketing. Their teams are becoming more strategically relevant by placing data in context and telling the stories that explain the “why” of the current state and inform the “what’s next” forecast of customer behavior.
They also recognize the fundamental need for ongoing education and training. A 2018 study found that 70 percent of researchers receive less than one week of training per year. Consequently, professionals with the greatest potential and drive will transfer or leave to find the environment where they have the best opportunity to develop their careers. They are digging deeper to understand the business, learn new skills, and combine research and data science in new ways to add value.
Build a Transformative Insights Team
Don’t be satisfied by simply filling the void. We see inspired leaders making tough decisions to create the optimal environment, then reshaping their teams with insights professionals who continuously evolve their skills and value.
Here are six proactive steps to take now:
- Position insights as the center of corporate learning. If the insights function is expected to move beyond tactical support to the role of strategic counselor, the insights head must hold an executive level position.
- Act as the strategic custodian of portals that harness multiple data streams and methodologies. Become indispensable to other business applications where insights will add value such as logistics, supply chain, ecommerce, customer experience, geolocation, etc.
- Hire for aptitude and attitude. Many skills can be learned, but conceptual thinking, strong communication, leadership potential and passion for the business are critical.
- Build cohesive, cross-disciplinary teams where informal learning happens daily. Plan and budget formal training for developing new skills. Open doors for progression toward insights management and general management.
- Challenge your team to develop a firm grasp on your company’s business model. Create a culture that encourages critical thinking and challenges bias. Attract team members who will strengthen the overall value of insights that you deliver.
- Value speed. Identify professionals who anticipate questions and will be prepared with calculated insights. Ensure that they can clearly articulate the trade-offs and develop a business case for more in-depth study where necessary.
While change can generate fear, there has never been a more exciting time to be an insights professional. It’s a time to embrace the most promising drivers of change and access resources who can provide the best-practice benchmarking, competitive intelligence and professional networks you need to support your team-building strategy.
Learn More About Insights and Analytics Hiring Trends
Learn more by downloading our white paper, “Consumer Insights Fill the Void.” Or, email Dixon Smith to request a copy.
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