Putting a foot in the door for key meetings, making time for strategy and even a new job title can help client-side insight managers to be more influential within their organisations, says Mandy Seal.

Blue newton's cradle

We all know where consumer insight wants to be: “a source of competitive advantage...” (BCG), “provocative…” (Kantar, Future of Insights).  However, many organisations tell us their insight department is not providing the level of strategic insight required. Yet, I don’t know of a single market research professional who doesn’t want to be strategic, forward-thinking and have greater impact in the organisation.

So where’s the gap? Organisations tend to focus on the ‘function’ of insight – eg, on structures and job titles. But by better understanding the individual experience of insight managers within organisations, we get a fuller picture of what really gets in the way of good insight coming to the fore.   

Like many, I’m often frustrated by how hard it is for insights to really cut through. It’s nice to be told ‘you’re a great co-pilot!’ but it strikes me that if my findings are to have more direct impact, I need to be a ‘pilot’.

So, I’ve spent this year exploring how things could be better; reflecting both on my own experience and also interviewing insight managers at different stages of their career. The hacks and tips they’ve shared may not be rocket science, but together they remind me of the small things I can do to have greater influence (and a happier work life) every day.  

1 ) Be a ‘partner’, not a ‘supplier’

True (mutual) partnership enables insight managers to better anticipate business needs. It gives us the context so we can seek and deliver the most useful knowledge and insight. Open, honest, discussion; and being ‘invited into the room’ are all essential to a good partnership.    

But there are challenges: some business colleagues don’t welcome debate; data can be threatening if not flattering and some would rather control the information flow on their terms.

What helps?

  • Go where the energy is: share ‘truths’ with those who are open to them within a business. This may not always be the person who commissioned the research or a direct colleague 
  • Find opportunities for informal as well as formal connections. It is often easier to deliver an important finding in a more relaxed setting with less fanfare. Perhaps join a virtual call early and start a conversation about a trend researchers are concerned with     
  • Be brave, and ‘put your foot in the door’ for essential meetings. 

Ultimately, our role is to help guide the business, not deliver research to an individual ‘requisitioner’. 

2 ) Find time for strategy

Strategy utilises market research to its fullest, most valuable extent; bringing an evidence base and clear thinking to highlight issues and solutions. But demonstrating strategic thinking requires time, space and opportunity.

What helps?

  • Seek balance: Very few of us have roles where we are only asked to create strategy; most of us have a ton of projects to get out the door. Those that managed well talked of ‘actively’ balancing by being realistic about how long it takes to complete and then fully land a research study  
  • Create time: Keep 30% of your diary free for reflecting, thinking, crafting, and creating stories from all the findings generated both ad hoc and continuously. It’s also useful when you need respond to those ‘urgent unexpected’ requests
  • Watch and learn: we are surrounded by astoundingly good (and not so good) strategic thinkers. Learn from both. 

While insight managers are not the only strategists in a business, we are in the position of having access to the ‘raw material’ of data and this gives us a potentially powerful role.  

3 ) Consumer insight is being redefined

Embracing the changes to the consumer data landscape will arm us with greater breadth and depth of consumer understanding.   

However, different data sources often compete, rather than complementing each other. Costly big data platforms that demand intense resource can feel like the ‘end in themselves’, rather than the ‘means’ to greater connection with consumers. 

What helps?

  • Break down silos (if they exist) between data scientists and insight managers
  • Upskill: a little bit of learning can go a long way, especially as the insight community is well placed to understand and ‘translate’ these new technologies 
  • Embrace new data sources, but remind the organisation that we serve people, not ‘IP addresses’.  

If all else fails; change your job title!. Try introducing yourself as: ‘a people specialist’; ‘a consumer data expert’ or ‘the voice of the consumer’ (delete as appropriate to create impact in your business). Seize the opportunity to redefine ourselves in line with industry changes. 

In short, there’s much that can be done to enable individual insight managers to land valuable insight with impact, and, at the same time, help to ensure those insight managers are both valued and nurtured to reach our maximum potential.

A ‘win-win’ all round.  

Mandy Seal is CMI senior manager at Mars Petcare