Research Insights 3.1 Building an Insights Engine

Marketing Research and Customer Insight

Source:  Van Den Driest, F., Sthanunathan, S., and Weed, K. (2016). Building an insights engine. Harvard Business Review, 94(9), 64–74.

Abstract: The most successful companies don’t just have good products and strong distribution systems—they have a deep understanding of customers. That naturally requires lots of marketing data, but the authors say it also takes an “insights engine”—a set of structures, people, and processes that can translate data into actionable strategy. How do high-performing organizations achieve this kind of customer centricity? Extensive research by the lead author’s firm indicates that seven operational characteristics are critical for a superior insights and analytics group: It must be adept at synthesizing data, independent from other functions, integrally involved in business planning, collaborative, willing to experiment with new technologies and programs, future oriented, and active in strategic decision making. In addition, the people who are part of the insights engine share three key traits: They have a whole-brain mindset (they think creatively as well as analytically), they focus on business growth, and they are effective at getting their messages across with engaging storytelling rather than dry recitations of data. The authors discuss each characteristic in turn, using the consumer goods giant Unilever as a case study. Unilever’s Consumer Markets and Insights group, the epitome of a powerful insights engine, has helped the company generate impressive revenue and sales growth. INSET: ABOUT THE INSIGHTS2020 RESEARCH. 

Insight: In this article, the authors discuss the capabilities that distinguish high-performing, customer-centric companies. More specifically, they argue that an independent insights and analytics function that participates in business planning and strategy is a key characteristic of such firms. Using Unilever’s Consumer and Market Insights (CMI) group as a case study, the authors argue that expertise in synthesizing data, close collaboration with other functions, and innovative use of new technologies are vital if an insight team is to succeed. Furthermore, they point out the skill sets needed by team members in terms of a ‘whole brain’ mindset that balances creative and analytical thinking.