Why aren't you actioning your insights?

One of my favourite stand-up comedy sketches is the one about the Man Drawer from Michael McIntyre. If you haven't seen it already, it's well worth a look:

What I love about this sketch is that it shows true insight into the life of the middle-aged man, whose house has increasingly been taken over by his family. Indeed, arguably the insight is more squarely about their controlling partners, who having so squarely taken control of the home, are forcing their partners to seek the sanctuary of a drawer!

Talking about this with friends recently, we made an interesting discovery:

  • Our male friends instantly recognised the personal truth in the sketch - universally all members of this small straw poll had their own "Man Drawer" at home
  • We all found this reflection amusing and accepted the ridiculousness of our own respective "man drawers" at home
  • Despite watching the sketch and recognising the absurdity of the "man drawer", not one of us had subsequently taken action to remove it within our own homes!!

If this small, and very unscientific example shows anything, it is that, even on an individual level, there are many things that get in the way of actioning insight. It is hardly surprising then that these barriers only expand and multiply when we transition from looking at individuals to entire organisations.

In our experience, many organisations talk about insight, they may also actively pursue insight thinking and teaching, but are all of these organisations actually actioning this thinking to truly transform their organisations? This, of course, is a rhetorical question to which we all know the answer.

Having worked with some fantastic companies who have really made a success of implementing customer insight thinking, here's my view on some simple principles that help businesses fully implement insight thinking in their organisations and genuinely enjoy its benefits:

Be holistic to drive transformation

Putting a new insight process in place in isolation of the wider business ramifications will never lead to enduring change. To be truly customer centric, insight needs to be at the heart of major business decisions across the breadth of the business. Insight thinking needs to be integrated with business strategy and planning at all levels, as well as providing the foundation for marketing activities. Insight capabilities need to be built into role profiles across the business and talent management processes need to recognise and reward insightful behaviours. And of course, skill development is needed at all levels of the business. Far too often, top management are excluded from the skill development programme – the response being "of course the leadership are fully on board". Yet, Insight programmes will never work if top management are not role modelling the skills and behaviours needed to be insightful: Leadership skill development in this area is key.

Keep it pragmatic

Insight is needed to help inform and drive the myriad of small, tactical decisions that are needed on a day to day level as well as the more major decisions on re-positionings, innovations, new communication campaigns etc. But to use insight daily, insight programmes need to recognise that a pragmatic way of harnessing insight is needed. The best insight programmes help practitioners access and apply insight tools quickly and easily on the job. A "short cut" approach for certain situations helps, which allows speedy access to checks and balances. Having a network of committed Insight Champions working in each team can also be a great way to enable "fit for purpose" application of insight on the job. Champions help to coach their colleagues and unlock those daily barriers that can make all the difference between success and failure.

Marry process with passion

Having a framework for insight is a helpful way to change ways of working in any organisation. But process needs to be balanced with cultural changes to really put customers at the heart of things. In the words of Ranjay Gulati in "Re Organize for Resilience" (Harvard Business Press 2010), "Corporate soul is shaped by customer empathy". It always surprises me how rare it is for marketers to meet their customers face to face. One of the most exciting stages of any insight initiative is when marketing teams and their internal partners do face to face customer connection activities, often for the first time. Connection activities inspire marketers to understand their target customer in a way that goes far beyond a written description of their target. Customers are understood in all their 3 dimensional glory, with their issues, complexities and realities bought into sharp focus. Best Buy is one of many businesses who attribute their success to this genuine 'up close and personal refocus' on customers saying "We had to see customers faces".

In order to make any business truly insightful about its targets, all decision makers in the business must seek out opportunities to meet their customers face to face. By doing this regularly, businesses develop a liking for their customers, in time building genuine empathy into their needs and circumstances.

Enable the insight team

The Insight Team needs help to deliver against the high expectations created by their name change.

In most businesses, the rebranded Market Research team will consist of skilled researchers and analysts, whose role needs to grow in order to fulfil their exciting new remit. In a networked world, where customers dialogue across a growing range of channels, meaningful conclusions require analysts to be ever better at harnessing data from a wider array of channels before integrating it with more traditional external and internal data sources. They need to further combine data with neuroscience, as highlighted in the recent American Marketing Association Conference on Marketing and Neuroscience: "To understand what your customer really thinks about your marketing, you need to understand both their logical and emotional responses, whether these responses occur consciously or subconsciously".

On top of these analytical skills, many Insight professionals need to significantly boost their Engagement and Influencing skills, building stronger linkages with business leaders so that their findings and conclusions are voiced and embraced in business critical decisions, a key factor attributed to the success of Tesco over the last decade. Only if Insight professionals have this louder voice in the business will the organisation truly benefit from their newly developed insight skillset.

Keep calm and carry on!

As with any change, time and persistence is needed. In any large organisation, Insight programmes will be competing for air time with other cross company priorities. Those organisations that have been most successful in becoming more insightful have followed a focused, determined approach over a period of time, not being diverted when other change agendas come along and keeping momentum by publicising results using internal communications and rewards programmes.

Actioning insight is worth it – the results speak for themselves. Some of those businesses that have been most successful in recent times attribute their success to putting the customer at its heart and enabling this through stronger, deeper insights. In a recent study of 3000 Executives, Managers and Analysts across 30 industries, the top performing organisations were shown to be twice as likely to use insights as lower performers.

So don't be amongst those companies that talk about insight but barely scratch the surface. Be one of the successful ones that follows through on their promise to the organisation, puts it genuinely into action and reaps the rewards.

And as you reflect on this, I must go and tackle that Man Drawer…!


For more information about how Brand Learning can help you lift your organisation’s insight capabilities, please get in touch. You may also like these films, perspectives and resources on Insight.

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"Marketing and Neuroscience: What Drives Customer Decisions" a white paper based on the American Marketing Association's Virtual Event "What drives Customer Decisions" by Barbara O'Connel, Steven Walden and Andrew Pohlmann" May 2011.
"Analytics: The New Path to Value – How the Smartest Organizations are Embedding Analytics to Transform Insights into Action" Fall 2010, MIT Sloan Management Review and IBM Institute for Business Value (Reporting the findings from the 2010 New Intelligent Enterprise Global Executive Study and Research Project".