Why Businesses Need to Transform, Elevate Insight Functions

It is not easy for businesses to stand out in a saturated market where there are similar services and products competing for consumer attention. Some businesses have, however, managed to launch brands that instantly gain a competitive edge to move ahead in an industry.


Chris Githaiga

By Chris Githaiga

It is not by chance that these brands are able to differentiate themselves in today’s marketplace. It all comes down to research, which helps companies to gain insights into how they can pull ahead of the pack.  
Looking into a competitor’s marketing campaigns, brand reputation, revenue or sales volume, and other important data points can help new businesses or struggling ones learn from their strengths and weaknesses.

For organizations seeking to develop targeted marketing campaigns, research will provide insights into the most effective marketing channels, messaging and communication strategies to reach and engage target customers.

Market research also helps businesses pricing strategies by evaluating customer perceptions of value and willingness. When a business understands the pricing dynamics of the market, it can set competitive and profitable pricing levels.

The value of market research for businesses does not stop there. The benefits are numerous. When you need to identify market trends, understand your core customer better, or achieve a long list of other important goals, market research is the answer. If you have powerful market insights when developing a marketing strategy, you can make informed decisions that would help your business grow.

Unfortunately, very few businesses appreciate the crucial role of insights in the success of businesses. Many only know what market research is and acknowledge its importance in a broader sense and are not able to give insights into their real source of competitive advantage.

Traditionally, the focus areas of the research function have been to own access to consumer understanding, but with the emergence of social listening and new technologies various stakeholders in large companies now have direct access to consumers.

What has been there is the culture of "act and learn" which meant that some companies were prepared, at least for a while, to take risks without assessing frameworks on consumer and market dynamics.

The exponential growth of data sources has, however, led to the creation of new functions within organizations (data centers, digital teams, e-business etc.) as well as competing budgets.

Insight has been missing a laser focus on the decisions the organizations are able to make and ownership of the outcomes of those decisions.

But with the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, insight leaders are increasingly realizing that they must move to the front seats in driving business success by making significant improvements on the functions of research.

This has made it necessary to transform and elevate the insight function for a business to get a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

If well transformed, insights can help organizations enhance consumer or even human-centricity. With insights, businesses can redefine, refine and constantly adjust their strategic plans to meet fast-evolving human needs in the fast-changing environment.

With the ever-growing availability of data sources, as well as the latest scientific developments in data, neuro and behavioral sciences, business have no option but to embrace the power of data and science to exploit new opportunities to better anticipate people’s needs, identify growth areas, forecast demand, and realize efficiencies.

The level of uncertainty around the health, social and economic context has meant scenario planning has become indispensable and insights play a key role in imagining and planning for scenarios. With insights organizations can know what new practices, behaviors and attitudes will stick and, of course, what new trends might emerge tomorrow. They are therefore able to prepare structures for their businesses to fast pivot to any of these futures.

Insights can also be used to drive agility and action through organizations in constantly changing contexts which require businesses to quickly adjust and mobilize resources to conduct changes. With insights businesses can create new ways to adapt to the supply chain, quickly optimize an e-commerce and omni-channel strategy, see opportunities for innovations, and implement different ways to talk to consumers.

But perhaps, the most critical value of insights that has made research teams occupy front seats is in demonstrating return on investment. With an increased emphasis on providing shareholder value, many organizations are closely examining their spends to show return in investment or value against various budgets including research.

If we get it right, insight can help drive cultural transformation and to future-proof a company, making it better equipped to address the opportunities and challenges of new, hybrid realities.

This can only happen when we move the role of insight from being an impartial observer of the consumer to bringing the voice of the consumer-citizen to the table and driving human-centricity through the organization.

In many businesses, the role of insight has dwelt on telling the business what happened instead of pointing the business to what might happen to enable foresight and scenario planning.

Insight has been used merely for data acquisition, but it is time now to move a step ahead to humanize the data, look at multiple data sources and scientific approaches to triangulate, speed up and enhance decision-making.

Businesses can only have a competitive advantage in the market when the role of insight transforms to a level where it is used to identify growth opportunities, and to develop world-class products and brands.

Successful businesses no longer use insight to help them remain relevant in the market. Insight role is increasingly being expanded beyond external market dynamics to include internal stakeholders and their needs. It is therefore important to identify areas within the business where insights can contribute value, such as product development, operations, customer service, and marketing. Organizations should also encourage different teams and departments to work together and share insights, ensuring that research findings are accessible to everyone who can benefit from them.

Insights need to go beyond merely supporting market presence and become a driving force for collaboration, innovation, and action within the organization.
It is only when we improve and move the role of insights towards these directions that companies can have competitive edges in their industries and become successful.

At Ipsos in Kenya, we believe this is an exciting time for insight leaders. They are uniquely placed to become the engine of change in their organizations by transforming and elevating the role of insights through new ways of working.

Based on our recent studies, we can provide perspectives on how the insight function can transform through new ways of working and rethinking needs, when the right talent and skills are in place. We help businesses to define vision and impact and evaluate gaps and build an implementation and activation plan including key performance indicators.

Businesses are also walking through the learning journey and training to create rich content to address specific hard and soft capability needs. We design and implement specific learning programmes for clients who have a need to both trigger a change of posture from their insight leads and enhance their “hard” skills, for example in the arena of data and behavioral science. In this instance, experts in those specific areas, and others such as change management, are called in to make sure that the teams do embrace the new behaviors and skills that are expected from them.

The final but most important support we give to clients who want to successfully transform and elevate the insight function is in keeping the momentum so that good practice becomes an accepted part of the organization.

This is always an ongoing mission which brings to the fore many issues to be considered along the way. Such issues include success stories and how to communicate them, how to ensure the insight function consolidates its role as a real influencer, and identifying key performance indicators which will support the behavior change we would like to see.

Insight must become a catalyst for positive change, helping various parts of the business achieve their goals and drive overall business success.

When insight function transforms, it opens the window for the whole company to deeply understand humans. And it provides the light for acting upon that understanding to develop better products and services as well as, ultimately, better business results.

Chris Githaiga is the Managing Director at Ipsos in Kenya.