By Tom DeRuyck

Driving new and powerful insights from consumers is silver, but doing something meaningful with those stories, something in support of corporate goals, is gold!

The Problem: Low Return on Consumer Insights (ROI)

More than ever, demonstrating impact is the name of the game for professional marketing services agencies. From our recent Market Research (MR) Impact study (2014), we know that only 45% of insight professionals & marketers believe research succeeds in changing the attitudes and decision of marketers and only 1 in 2 projects leads to change (Schillewaert et al, 2014). This lack of impact is not a matter of budget. Rather than spending more, the critical driver for impact is to maximize the value of spending (BCG study, 2009). Based on 20+ in-depth interviews with MR professionals from the client side, we have identified 11 unmet needs related to the future of consumer insights. While ten of those frictions relate to creating a positive business impact with consumer stories, only one is about finding better insights (Willems et al, 2015). So, the goal is to trigger meaningful actions which turn insights into concrete ideas, stronger brands and future-proof business concepts to deliver better consumer experiences. The million dollar question is:

How do we trigger these meaningful actions across the organization in order to create a positive business impact? And how can the insight professional of tomorrow do this in an efficient yet effective way?

The Solution: Going from ‘Insights’ to ‘Memes’

For people to take action on a consumer insight, they first need to learn what the insight is about. In traditional MR, only a limited group of people is involved in this knowledge exchange by e.g. participating in the debrief workshop or managing the research study themselves. This limited group is then able to shape an insight platform by adding own thoughts, observations and/or ideas. By involving a wider group of employees, one better understands the consumer and is able to make better consumer relevant decisions. Furthermore, the theory of open innovation teaches us that ‘the one golden idea’ can come from anywhere in the organization, not only marketing or innovation (Whelan, 2011). To increase the impact, all employees across the organization need to learn what the friction is in order to share related observations and ideas. For example, by experiencing how consumers are using their product today, employees see what can be improved. When such an insight is replicated by employees by adding own observations and ideas, it is shared with various people across the organization and it triggers action, the insight is called a ‘meme’ (Dawkins, 1989).

An illustration of such a meme is what we did at ATAG, a leading supplier of kitchen appliances. ATAG wanted to move away from a product-driven strategy and introduce a consumer-driven approach (‘cook-centered thinking’). In order to make this shift, they needed to create an internal belief for their new strategy. We invited 400 internal stakeholders to discover the consumer insights and experience themselves how strong the emotion ‘passion for cooking’ can be. The #welovecooks experience engaged over 170 employees, who contributed 125 observations, and resulted in 13 potential internal projects identified by the crowd. The new strategy was shared among employees and turned into the #welovecooks meme.

To turn an insight into a meme, insight professionals need to move away from the traditional research model and shift on 3 levels to establish the ‘Memefication of Insights’:

  1. From reporting to involving (#experience): While 92% of insight professionals believes their research generates insight worth sharing with colleagues, only 65% extensively shares them with their organization. Furthermore, only 1 in 5 researchers organizes interactive workshops to discuss results (Schillewaert et al, 2014). All too often, MR takes such an individualistic approach where executives need to identify their own actions when reading research reports. However, to trigger meaningful actions, insight professionals need to bring insights to life through interaction. Therefore, we have identified 4 building blocks when marketing insights; harvesting, seeding, activating and collaborating. Through ‘harvesting’, we collect insights from internal stakeholders which are already known. Secondly, ‘seeding’ enables insights managers to spread insights via key ambassadors in a relevant way through the organization. ‘Activating’ triggers stakeholders to not only discover but also interact with insights. Finally, ‘collaborating’ connects stakeholders to work together and turn insights into actions and new future projects. At Unilever R&D the combination of these building blocks lead to 640 involved employees of the 1000 invitees, which triggered more conversations about their consumers on the work floor, measured with an increase from 12% to 55%.
  1. From teams to the organization (#reach): In traditional MR, consumer stories and insights are often discovered and owned by the MR department. However, in order to trigger meaningful actions, the insight needs to be co-owned by all employees. First of all, we want extend the MR reach from executives to management to enable higher management to take long-term decisions with a consumer context in mind. Secondly, we involve the front-line employees, who are in almost daily contact with consumers, to shape their consumer feeling and ultimately improve their performance. Finally, involving all other employees that have a rather indirect relationship with the consumer creates a better understanding of the consumer context of the business, making them more motivated as an employee in general. The extension of MR reach calls for a layered approach, like we did for the Belgian bus company ‘De Lijn’ where involved their whole organization with consumer insights about their Gen Y passenger. We seeded the top 10 insights during an internal conference with 200 top managers, we organized a speed date for executives to meet their consumers and finally we activated all stakeholders to play the Gen Y passenger quiz to interact with the key insights.
  1. From projects to habit creation (#structural): For most employees, working with consumer insights is not a routine. If you wish to trigger meaningful actions and enable employees to turn the insight into a meme, it is of great importance that consumer relevant inspirations are integrated into their daily jobs. By identifying the employees’ motivations and behaviours, we can better trigger when and how to use consumer insights on a regular basis. If we learn to shift towards habits, we will be more successful in triggering meaningful actions and increase the impact of consumer insights on the business. For Unilever R&D, we immersed 1000 employees with their consumer in 6 weeks’ time through testing their consumer knowledge through mini-quizzes and organizing collaboration sessions to close their knowledge gaps. As a result of integrating these consumer insight routines, we not only improved their gut feeling but also shaped their ‘consumer feeling’ with a relative increase of 81% (De Ruyck et al, 2012).

 

Tom DeRuyck, Insites Consulting

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