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Jane Frost is the CEO of MRS, the world’s leading research association. She launched their Delphi Group think tank report into Insight Driven Organisations at Effectiveness Week 2016. Here she argues that organisations need to pay more attention to the data they are collecting and what they are doing with it in order to become more customer-insight driven.

We live in a data rich world. And sometimes all that data can obscure a simple truth – that the customer is everything. And more importantly, they are a person. Not just a lead, an opportunity or a sale, they are a human being. If we don’t take the time to understand them; their motivations, frustrations needs and fears, we can’t hope to understand or influence their behaviour when it comes to our brands and products.

“There is an unambiguous connection between commercial success and customer-centricity”

This all seems rather obvious, but based on the results of our latest report ‘Towards an Insight Driven Organisation’ it is not something that many companies are building enough capability in. Amongst other findings, only 4% of respondents felt they were part of a fully-fledged insight driven organisation. And only 17% ‘proactively’ champion the customer voice through insight.

We undertook our research after Kantar Vermeer’s Insights2020 found that there is an unambiguous connection between commercial success and customer-centricity. With such a strong argument for developing insight teams and capability, we wanted to discover what makes an organisation successful in this respect, and where companies are currently struggling. One aspect of that is the way that data and research is conducted within an organisation.

Infographic of key points from the MRS report into Insight Driven Organisations

Our world is so data rich that it is easy to get lost in a warren of ever multiplying data wormholes. Data is also rather fashionable and many companies collect it almost obsessively. Tons of data is worth very little though if the right questions aren’t asked to generate meaning from it. “Is this the right data to collect?” “Is this data clean?” “Does this data tell me anything new”

A meaningful programme of research and insight is based on so much more than reliance on the standard collected stats that businesses are collecting anyway. It requires a bespoke approach. It requires the understanding that a sale is not just ‘feedback’, it is in fact the result of a number of things. And most of all it should be driven by customer impact. Data is always historical by its nature, but a good programme of research will ferret out the metrics that reflect true customer value rather than simply reflecting lag indicators of past performance.

“A meaningful programme of insight is based on more than reliance on standard business stats”

Our research showed that the majority of organisations aren’t doing this. So what are some of the mistakes that are being made?

Measuring the Wrong People

First, there is a lot of measuring of active customers. Measuring sales and reporting on social media is great, but it only reflects what customers who are already engaged with the brand are doing. Growth depends on understanding those people who are not currently buying or engaged. If you define your customers purely as the people who already like or are engaged with your brand, you won’t uncover insights that will help you to attract new customers.

Dirty Data

Insight driven organisations realise that some data that customers give them is dirty

A lot of dirty data is being used as if it is clean. This came to light particularly in our findings on teenagers in our report on privacy, Private Lives. Teenagers so overtly share their lives on social media, that it seems counter intuitive to suggest they are at all concerned about privacy. However, if you scratch beneath the surface of that primary behaviour, you find another one that is masking what is really going on. They use sophisticated means to protect their privacy including providing dirty. This has big implications for research and can’t afford to be ignored, however uncomfortable.

Measuring the Wrong Thing

Finally, measuring the wrong thing is still a significant problem. Outputs and numbers rather than outcomes. Reporting, “What we did”, rather than, “What we impacted”. And of course asking customers the wrong questions. It’s common to conduct research, which discovers customers struggling with a product or service, but the question of why they are experiencing difficulty is not effectively asked. And often the answer to that question is only available if it is asked right. Paying your PAYE is a great example. I have no doubt that you could design any number of surveys that would tell you that people struggle with it and a good researcher would try to discover the reasons why – bad UX or communication, lack of time, poor IT skills. It all sounds very sensible. But if you actually sat opposite someone and talked to them about it, their body language might tell a very different story. Quite possibly that the whole thing is simply very scary for them, they are in a panic. The emotional response is actually what inhibits them and interferes with their ability to complete the task easily.

That kind of insight could significantly impact on the decision-making process within a business. But only if the research process is designed broadly enough to capture such a response in the first place.

And once you have those insights the next challenge is to report them effectively throughout the business. But there’s a whole other article in that!

“Businesses have woken up to the fact that if they are to be truly customer-led, they must become insight-driven”

Our report found that a majority of organisations have an organised programme of research and 72% of them feel that their organisations use insight to drive decision-making. That is a positive result. This is a dynamic moment for the insight function. As Cat Wiles, Head of Planning at VCCP said in our report, “There has never been a more exciting time to be part of the insight function. Businesses have woken up to the fact that if they are to be truly customer-led, they must transform their organisation to become insight-driven.” Initiatives like Effectiveness Week show the appetite for change and improvement both from individuals and from brands and organisations.

You can benchmark your own organisation’s use of insight and research using MRS’ online tool.

Browse more learnings and key content from EffWeek 2016 here.

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Effectiveness Week 2016

“Just what the industry needs, great collaboration between clients and agencies on the topics that drive business growth.”

Bridget Angear, Joint Chief Strategy Officer at AMV BBDO

“It’s great to see the IPA in the UK bring the whole industry and particularly the trade bodies together to focus on effectiveness. This new Marketing Effectiveness initiative will enable people across the industry to work together to build on best practice.”

David Wheldon, Chief Marketing Officer, RBS

“Effectiveness is a team sport, so it was great to see the industry in the widest sense, come together. In an increasingly diverse and fragmented world, only by using all parts of the brain will we solve effectiveness challenges and design our campaigns to deliver short and long term value. That’s why what happens next is important – if the IPA can help facilitate progress on this with a long-term initiative around Marketing Effectiveness, we’ll definitely crack it.”

Bart Michels, Global CEO Kantar Added Value and Country Leader Kantar UK

“The time spent at #EffWeek was extraordinarily effective. It was great to hear the diverse views from all areas of the industry. All tied together with the common themes of accountability and effectiveness.”

Andrew Canter, Global CEO, BCMA

“It has been a privilege to be part of the inaugural Effectiveness Week. The agenda is one which we at O2 UK feel passionately about. To see and hear perspectives across the industry demonstrates how the breadth of marketing effectiveness is increasingly being valued within businesses. Data, insight, social, customer experience, test and learn, ROI, these are all fundamentals and were covered expansively at the event”.

Sandra Fazackerley, Marketing & Consumer, Telefónica UK Limited

“The full week of effectiveness events brought into clear focus the need for marketers to use data and insight to achieve the key business objectives of growth and profits. Marketers today are in a better position to quantify their knowledge of customers and measure the ability of investments in marketing to increase brand and shareholder value.”

Chris Combemale, Group CEO, DMA