We’re not quite sure how it happened but IO Consulting turns 10 years old this year. It only feels like yesterday that the original founders were sitting in a pub discussing the idea of InsightOut (now known as IO Consulting). If we think hard enough we can probably still feel the hangover that followed that meeting. Ten years later we’re still going strong so we must have been on to something.
To celebrate hitting double figures we decided to give our website a bit of a spruce up (and finally bring it into the 21st century). When you’re busy doing stuff it was always at the bottom of the to do list. With the new website has come a new blog page. So how do we christen the page? It has to be something to do with 10 right? We’ve settled on the 10 top tips we would give anyone just about to start a role as Head of Insight in a corporate. If we gave up working at IO and went and got proper jobs what would be on our to do list?
We apologise in advance if, by any strange coincidence, someone is actually reading this – to be honest we’re assuming no-one ever will so plan to write more as therapy than being remotely interesting. If you do ever read this please leave a comment – if only to tell us how bitter you feel for having wasted 5 minutes of your precious lives. Sorry!
- Do one thing to shamelessly raise the profile of you and your team from day one. It doesn’t need to be cutting edge or even the the most important thing that the business needs at that point in time, but it needs to get your team being talked about and recognised amongst senior decision makers. Maybe as ‘simple’ as aligning all your business metrics into a snazzy dashboard that give leadership a simple way to diagnose business performance or developing a customer closeness program that gets everyone in the business out of the office and interacting with your target audience. They are quick wins that build profile, make them a priority.
- Get out of the marketing bubble. Many insight teams become subsets of marketing organisations. This can feel good and create close working relationships but don’t be fooled. A majority of marketers are utter narcissists, if you ever want your insight team to be properly recognised for the work you do they need to influence more broadly, away from the shadow of your marketing colleagues.
- Aim to make yourself redundant. There is a school of thought that insight teams become valuable when they do things or have skills that the rest of the organisation doesn’t. We don’t believe that is true. We believe an insight team becomes valuable when they instill and develop insightful behaviours in the wider organisation. If you get to a state where your business partners have the capability to do your job as well as you do you have succeeded, not failed.
- Don’t moan about and/or simply accept that your headcount and budget are going to be squeezed. View it as a challenge to reverse that trend. The fact is there IS money and resource in every business. If you are getting a reducing share of that ask yourself why? Set yourself the personal KPI to reverse that trend – don’t just accept it.
- Speak in your customer/ consumer’s language, even when communicating internally. The market research community, like many other business disciplines, has been tainted with its own, utterly infuriating, jargon. We would wholeheartedly support getting up and walking out of a meeting when someone uses a phrase such as “we need to uncover the core of human truth here”. What on earth do you mean?? Something that is true and about a human? That could just be a fact. At least the much misused term ‘insight’ has some vaguely consistent meaning nowadays. It is your job to champion the customer/consumer voice in your business. The more you simply talk in their language the more they will be present in your office walls. Cut out the jargon or it will start to permeate into how you talk externally.
- You are not in your role to be popular. Sometimes ideas or plans are rubbish. Sometimes it will be the customer/ consumer that tells you that and sometimes, because you are often the one with the strongest empathy for your customer, you will just know it. It’s your job to call those situations out. So many marketers or product developers are too invested in their ideas that they can’t help but feel a, sometimes misguided, positivity for their projects. You are likely to be more objective. It doesn’t mean you can’t be positive and constructive but it’s down to you to tell it like it is.
- Hire passion, not necessarily experience. Some of the best recruits we have seen go into client-side insight roles had zero experience in the world of research and insight. Two examples were a packaging technician and an experienced sales manager. What made their transitions successful? A real passion and desire to get under the skin of what is going on in the customer world and influence business thinking as a result. Moreover, the latter sales candidate brought a much needed sales mindset of accountability for measuring and sharing the impact the team had. Something that is all too often lacking in insight functions.
- Look forward more and backward less. One of our first projects ten years ago was to help a client understand how much of their research was backward looking (tracking activities in market that had already happened or testing initiatives that were already on their way to market) versus forward looking (exploring trends, emerging opportunities, real innovation and not renovation). The result was a shocking 80% of investment looked backward. Even more worryingly, when we benchmarked this against a number of other companies it was very much the norm. Ten years on we’re not convinced much has changed.
- It’s often easier to spend than not to spend. It is surprising how many hundreds of thousands of research pounds get spent because ‘that is where we usually spend them’. Brand Trackers are usually the main culprit. In your leadership role we would encourage your first actions to be to ruthlessly put a hold on any recurring spend that isn’t accompanied by a compelling business case for the investment it represents. We’ve encouraged several organisations to put a complete hold on research spending until the teams that were asking for the knowledge demonstrated they could not get the answers they needed from re-interrogation of existing work or via other zero cost sources. It doesn’t make you popular (see point 6!) but it most certainly ensures you squeeze value from every last penny.
- Don’t pretend to know everything. This has been an important learning for us over the last ten years. We predominantly draw our consultants from a pool of senior ex-Heads of Insight. The reality is we are all of a certain vintage. In an industry where new tools and techniques, fuelled by ever more specialist analytics are exploding all over the place (think AI, machine learning, neuroscience etc) we realised many of us had never actually implemented some of these programs within organisations. With the best will in the world we were never going to be experts in these fields. We had to be honest with ourselves about that. As a result we openly partner with new associates and other businesses that know their stuff in these emerging spaces. The same is true for an insight team – all too often its activities and impact can be shaped by the person at the helm. There seems to be a growing trend for insight teams to be led by employees with very analytical backgrounds these days. As a result some of the more qualitative/ creative, dare we say ‘fluffy’ tools fall by the wayside. The key is to to be open to and embrace new thinking, even if it falls outside your comfort zone. It’s OK not to be the expert in the room, your role is to make sure those experts have the maximum impact they can on the decisions your business takes. Thats what you will be valued for.
Blimey – that was cathartic. We’re all going to lie down in a darkened room for a while. Thank you for reading and a huge congratulations for making it this far. Would love to hear your thoughts or maybe some further tips beyond the ten above?
Till next time,