Corporate Researchers Reflect on Insights Trends

At IIEX NA 2016, Ryan Barry of ZappiStore moderated a panel with Michelle Gansle, Wrigley; Thomas Grayman, Viacom; Kristen Griffith, Clorox; and June WestHolland, Verizon. The following is my paraphrase of their comments.

Ryan: How are you selling insights to the leadership team of your organization?

Thomas: It’s a deep part of our heritage, with senior leadership looking to consumer insights and rarely make content or marketing or business development decisions without assessing the potential consumer impact. We don’t have to sell to the C suite: we have open communication built in. Our job is to take the mass insights we generate through our research and distill it into something strategic. Senior management has less patience for intricacies of your methods. They ultimately see a small but highly potent fraction of what you deliver.

Michele: You can’t know the business better than we do. Who is the decision maker? Some use their head, and want to see the data; some use their gut, and want to see examples. So who are we presenting to? We want to turn the data into stories that will resonate with the decision maker.

June: We present internally. Less and less often do we have the vendor come in and present. We take the research and drive it to action. The partners are valued and discussed, but not presenting.

Thomas: We are combining the insights you deliver with other sources. So it is not a single set of data from one project.

Ryan: How are you setting up your function to stay ahead of trends?

Michele: We tend to reflect our business partners. We reorg every few years to align with market trends. Gone are the days of 6- to 8-week long quant projects. We are doing things differently, not just more with less.

Kristen: We are moving faster without more budget. The first approach is to use the data sets we have in new ways, mining the data, using it in ways it wasn’t designed for. The second approach is to have always-on sources, such as social listening and have fast, iterative learning for agile research. Instead of 4 giant studies we need to do 50 tiny ones and keep iterating. That’s our mindset and philosophy.

June: The telematics industry we are part of is exploding, with so much noise and so many competitors. Gone are the days of the big survey. We do so few of those. We need partners who understand we may need results in a week. It is impossible to do more with the same number of people and hours so sometimes you have to stop doing something in the middle of it to pick up a new top priority that came up literally overnight.

Thomas: In our case, we are not facing reductions on our resources, so we have the ability to do both long-term, large-scale, landscape studies, with a team that does just that, while having a more tactical research team to deliver incomplete sets of insights quickly and efficiently. So we have that dichotomy.

Ryan: What advice would give you to department heads?

Michele: What’s the story and the so-what? We are the voice of the consumer, the research, and the company – all three of those things. We are business leaders and consultants, not just the voice of the consumer anymore.

Kristin: The executives are people, and they like stories and want to hear the emotional impact, so walk away from the data a bit to tell that story. Literally show them the consumer and build that empathy. Create an immersive experience out of one person: that empathy building goes a long way.

June: We go back to the grassroots. We found a lot of our Hum products weren’t being activated and used (telematics for tracking car diagnostics). So we had to find anecdotes and discussions: we learnt that consumers didn’t realize there was an additional step.

Thomas: We like to do consumer immersions with our executives. We will bring consumers on a panel to sit and talk with our executives and senior management. That often generates such a passion for the insights that come out. It helps with the other insights we deliver.

Ryan: How do you measure ROI?

June: ROI is not a problem because of the other things we’ve talked about. It’s soft. I don’t have a resource constraint; I have accountability for showing actionable, impactful tasks to grow our bottom line and retain our customers. As long as I can demonstrate that, I’m done.

Michele: We don’t have an ROI on research but on the activities that are driven by research: brand renovation, etc. We get questioned a lot when things go wrong but ROI is measured on the whole output.

Kristin: We found a lot of value as a cross-functional team (not just Insights). We found an insight around our Hidden Valley salad dressing, when we identified people who used it for dipping pizza and unhealthy foods into their dressing – not just for salads.

Thomas: Several years ago we did a social initiative called “True Dads”, a series of PSAs. We did ethnography and survey work about the state of fatherhood and built a campaign that was more indirect. The campaign was so attractive that we won sponsors who wanted to be part of the message, so that was a big win for research.

Ryan: As you staff your businesses, what are two traits that you look for?

Kristen: The two that come to mind are 1) creative out of box thinking, approaching the question in a different way, and 2) reaching a collaborative yes to requests, a can-do attitude.

Thomas: A natural curiosity and disposition. The can-do attitude.

June: The ability to communicate well: a balance between technical savvy and business savvy. The ability to focus on objectives amid all the chaos to work with the sole objective in mind.

Michele: The curiosity sets market researchers apart from other functions. Be a good dot-connector – take disparate information, from qual and quant, and share that out simply.

Jeffrey Henning is president of Researchscape International, an agency help thought leaders drive their content with data.

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