NEWS23 October 2023

‘Not plain sailing': Closing the insights and analytics gap

AI Data analytics News Technology

Triangulating sources, democratising data and communicating well are key to bringing the disciplines together, according to a panel of client- and agency-side insights and analytics professionals.


Speaking at the MRS Data-Driven Insights conference on Thursday ( 20th October), discussing what ‘data-driven insight’ means for businesses, Liz Lamb, head of data and insight at Card Factory, said: “For me, firstly it is the triangulation of sources. It could be financial data, supply data, social media data. It also talks to the exploitation of research data – things like customer value modelling. Also, leveraging of data to spot patterns and trends – things that then point our research budget into the right areas.”

Lamb continued: “I always talk about the power of three. It’s tying together finance, data and insight together to prove ROI where we can. We can’t spend willy-nilly.”

Helen Rose, head of insight and data at media agency The7stars, pointed to the importance of insight in a media investment context. Rose said: “Data-driven insight isn’t a sample of one, it’s not a gut feeling, it’s not a recommendation that suits our needs. It’s genuine trust and confidence that this data is going to help us make the right decisions in the current climate, where marketing budgets are really precious, we need to spend every penny of investment wisely. Understanding de-risks that because we have trust and confidence to make those decisions.”

Discussing the steps The7stars has taken to become more ‘data-driven’, Rose said: “We took the decision many years ago now to merge what was a very traditional research team with a traditional data expert team. They were two separate teams, and they didn’t sit next to each other or really talk to each other. It wasn’t plain sailing; it takes time to get teams truly working together, otherwise you’ve just got two siloed teams sitting next to each other – still not talking to each other.”

This has involved a process of spending time “getting to know each other” and working together on multi-methodology approaches to business problems, said Rose.

She added: “I think we’ve come a long way in terms of being much more integrated and collaborative. Our colleagues beyond data and insight now recognise us as a combined team and discipline; that has been a big behaviour shift. Democratising how data is talked about, used and approached is a big part of that journey – we are quite progressive in our conversations with clients on this topic and helping them bring the two together.”

Lamb also discussed her efforts to combine the disciplines at Card Factory, noting: “It is very much a journey. When I joined the business 18 months ago, it was in its infancy from a data and insight point of view – quite fragmented and very little data being used. I’d come previously from Asda, where everything is singing together beautifully and you are solving problems for the business. I have tried to bring things together – the research and the data analytics capabilities – but it is challenging. It takes significant resource and budget to implement this in the long term.”

Because of this, Lamb said she is also currently “looking at quick wins”, noting that in addition to where she has been able to make structural changes, she has set up a working group with members from across the business. Lamb said: “We regularly get together – it might be a supply chain analyst, and someone from finance, and someone from HR – and talk about key business challenges and who has what data. It’s quite freeing in a way – you don’t need to wait until you sort the structure out. You just crack on without permission and go about solving problems. It’s something that anybody can do without having all of the structure or budget in place.”

Also pointing to the importance of communication, Ade Ososami, head of analytics at Kokoro, agreed that a need to de-risk had heightened client scrutiny of methodologies. He said: “We try as best as possible to demystify it for [clients] and take them on the journey step by step in how we go from one stage to the other, so they feel confident in the methodology we have used or are proposing. There’s a huge amount of effort put into making sure people understand what happens behind the scenes – not necessarily the theoretical bit, but just a good sense of what’s going on.”

Ososami also talked about the challenges of making insight more ‘data-driven’, highlighting a challenge around complexity: “A lot of these things can be automated, so it loses the value behind how complex it can be.”

There is also the fear that applications of technology could make researchers’ roles redundant, added Ososami. “I tend to use a cooking analogy: we all cook, and I don’t understand half of the things I use in cooking, like a blender, but I am still able to make a meal out of it. But the meal I create would not be on a par with a Michelin star chef.

“Researchers are the experts; we know how to use these tools to find the most meaningful impactful insights from the data we’re given.”

While discussions about fusing research and data more closely are not new, Rose said she had witnessed a shift in the balance of when and how research is used. She observed: “Research has become more at the forefront of the way we work and how we put together a brief. We’ve moved away from research being an afterthought, backing up a strategic approach. The balance has shifted – it is the starting point: what does the data tell us, what are people doing and thinking that could drive our response in the way we’re working with a client or with a brand on their comms? Research and insight is kind of having a bit of a moment in terms of being paramount in driving general business decision-making.”

The biggest shift Ososami has observed recently has been researchers utilising more innovative tools, such as AI-based video editing for online transcriptions, and he predicted researchers would continue to feel more confident accessing such tools in their work in future.

Lamb said there has been a culture shift in how the research function is viewed. She said: “In various businesses I’ve worked in, there has been a transformation from being seen as a service to a real strategic asset. We are problem-solving, highlighting opportunity and identifying risk. I think people genuinely look at data and insight teams now as problem solvers, not just as ‘I’ve got a question – can you answer it?’”