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Podcast: Changing the game in market research

Michael Howard, the head of marketing at Infotools, covers an analogy: in the insights game if you want to change the game, it’s better to play than watch from the stands. This means getting stakeholders involved in the process.

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On this podcast, Michael Howard, the head of marketing at Infotools was both guest and host - talking about an analogy: in the insights game if you want to change the game, it’s better to play than watch from the stands. He references the experience that Infotools has gained whilst serving the needs of the market research industry for over 32 years, via various data investigation technology platforms.

In this episode he shares how we are seeing and helping progressive, data-driven organizations thrive. Michael says that at the simplest of levels, the game analogy means getting stakeholders and business decision makers involved in the process of generating insights. Read on for a transcript of this podcast!
 


Think of how sports teams like Liverpool are now working with neuro scientists and sports psychologists to help their players make the right decisions on the field. Historically, these people would never have been involved. Now they are, and it’s one way that this team is getting an edge. Bringing others from around your organization into the insights generation process can be your edge too.  
 
I’m not proponing here that insights teams are minimized to data processing. Quite the opposite. Insights teams can be thought of as the puppet masters, tacticians, strategists pulling the strings in the background in order to bring about the types of actions that truly change the game.  
 
The only ones watching from the stands should be our clients’ shareholders, who are willing us on, our fans – think our customers, prospects, potential employees, and our competition, who, in an ideal world, are watching us lift trophy after trophy. 
 
What game are we playing? 
 
The game we refer to is modern business. The world has been moving towards being data driven for the past 20 years. One of the biggest barriers to attaining a true data-driven approach was down to the ease and ability at which organizations can surface insights from datasets.  
 
Up until recently, this had mostly been done manually, through spreadsheets, etc. It’s no wonder that people have been resistant to embracing a move to decentralized data insights.  
 
If technology require too much training, you’re not going to get the levels of utilization that make such an initiative pay off. But now, there are tools that help make this process work as it should, without significant investment, and without unrealistic changes in business process. 
 
Organizations have a considerable library of data now, which has been echoed by team members who tout themselves as being data driven. But as anyone in the data science or analytic space will tell you, the mere profession of these two points does not a data-driven organization make.  
 
So how does a data-driven organization look like in the insights space? 
 
First of all, being data driven has to mean more than just making a decision based on which option has a higher percentage point or a larger dollar figure next to it. I say this, because anyone can make a decision when it’s a choice between A or B. You can even automate that as well. The challenge is really your level of confidence in what the data is telling you. It may well be that you arrived at your decision too prematurely - the insights you discovered may only just be scratching the surface.  
 
Being data driven, especially when an insights team is involved, demands a high level of inquisitiveness, diving deeper than what’s on the surface, to ensure that whatever insight or piece of information that has been discovered is accurate and representative. Bringing market research expertise into the data-driven process enables an organization to go deeper. 
 
To really understand this perspective, you need to grasp that the modern world of insights is anything but a passive endeavor. It is active, involved, and it’s a spectacular sight when it’s performing optimally.  
 
So, as those of us in market research and insight teams are inherently data driven, we’re in the game, and it’s our role to help others from our organization join us from the stands.  
 
Now, why does our position of getting more people across the organization involved in the generating insights make sense? 
 
Have you ever played a game of sport with someone who has competed at a national or international level before? It doesn’t really matter which sport – Baseball, football, soccer, even chess?  
 
One thing you realize, and pretty quickly at that, is how adept they are in being able to see well in advance how scenarios or passages of play could transpire. They’re always thinking two or three steps ahead, rather than simply reacting to the now. 
 
This is exactly our point with getting stakeholders involved in the insights process. These colleagues of yours have the experience and wisdom that can significantly raise the value and outcomes delivered by your insights function. They bring their experience into the process and can help shape particular projects. They can feed into the processes as it happens. And that is a game changer.  
 
The business world has created so many silos over the years, and it’s really encouraging to see those silos being torn down.    
 
Have you considered the amount of waiting in your current ways of working? 
 
One of the strongest reasons for moving to an ‘on-the-pitch’ approach is to reduce the significant time taken to further investigate data in your insights generation processes. Realistically, there are always going to be moments when key decision makers will see a dashboard or PowerPoint and question what they’re seeing. Or want to see something slightly differently. Even half an hour before a meeting when they finally get around to reading an email with your that you had sent them 5 days earlier. And this should always be welcome.  
 
Remember, these stakeholders have often been there and done that, and can see aspects of the game which insights teams sometimes can’t. Traditional insights functions would then send a request back to data processing, wasting precious time, which wouldn’t be required if the right tools and processes were in place. If these stakeholders were in the game, they could make tweak what they were seeing on the fly.  
 
Have you thought about the value of working together? 
 
I’ve played competitive sport now for the better part of three decades. There will always be those who try to do everything by themselves. When you have that kind of person in your team, they may have flashes of brilliance, but they will have a detrimental impact on the success of your team. One person, as good as they may be, can only do so much. We’d do well to remember the wise words of the ancient Greek mathematician Euclid the “whole is greater than the part”.  
 
When teams work closely with others in their business as part of the insights generation process you’re in a much stronger position to compete and win. And when you’re winning as a unit, not only does your culture grow, you develop bonds with others that won’t break easily.  
 
Think of this from the reverse, if your team isn’t playing well together, if the cohesion isn’t there, then you will naturally get those who will move on to find success elsewhere.    
 
Have you ever been part of a winning team? 
 
Plenty of fans no doubt would have. Winning tends to attract followers. But nothing really beats that feeling when you’ve played your heart out, left nothing on the table, navigated the ups and downs of journey to get through to the final, to overcome the opposition, and to lift that trophy. While there’s a touch of hyperbole in here, it’s a similar kind of feeling when those around your business have all contributed to generating game-changing insights. They’ve been a part of that winning team, they’ve identified something in the data that has helped reveal a considerable competitive advantage. And that’s something to which we should all aspire. 
 
But, doesn’t the act of non-insights employees playing a bigger role in the generation of insights diminish the role and value of the insights professional? 
 
Not at all. But it does require teamwork. Unfortunately, politics will always be at play in all spheres of life, including politics and especially including business. And this is one reason why some insights teams are hesitant to moving towards a decentralized insights future. Holding on to older ways of working, but equally over-estimating the amount of work that would be expected of others. It’s not as much as you think. 
 
If you consider what’s happened to in the HR world, HR departments still have oversight on all things personnel, yet they’ve been empowering line managers to take on a lot of responsibilities that once were the sole purview of HR. Frameworks, training, processes, technology, etc., are still all implemented and overseen by HR, but people leaders are playing their part, bringing their domain expertise into the fold. HR professionals aren’t out of a job as a result of this. Quite the opposite. They’re now able to address some fairly systemic issues that have been largely ignored for decades, such as diversity, pay equity, and inclusion. 
 
This should give insights a lot of hope, and hopefully some inspiration too. It’s long been a goal of market research to help organizations better understand their world. And if insights teams can help lift the quality of that understanding through bringing in the domain expertise of others into all parts of the insights generation process, then insights teams will be akin to the quarterback, central midfielder, first five, if you will – the pivotal playmaker that is directing the game. Your role as an insights professional won’t diminish, it will only grow. And take heart, there are scores of organizations out there who have already adopted these new ways of working.  
 
Who exactly should be joining us in the game?  
 
Well, another consideration that is really important, is to ensure that you surround yourself with supporting staff who are also in the game. Time and time again, you hear about complaints from staff that management are too absent, they’re not connected with their people. This rings true for management, as much as it does for vendors or consultants you bring into your business as well. If they’re not in the game, if they’re not bringing their experience into the processes early enough, you’re leaving value on the table.  
 
From an insights and market research perspective, this is ensuring that any vendors, suppliers, or agencies have particular market research experience. If they have been playing in the game, you’ll know it. The insights industry is incredibly nuanced – take, for example, an appreciation for being able to analyze research data at a respondent level. This shouldn’t be taken for granted when weighing up which data investigation tool is right for your team.  
 
And again, working with those who are actively playing the insights game means your organization is lowering the risk of potential re-works due to errors or oversights that should have been considered.  
 
When the going gets tough, those playing in the space can bring all their expertise to the field. And often, that is just what’s needed. Data is incredibly complex, and incredibly easy to get wrong. It’s assumed that organization’s data sitting in a BI system is the source of truth. There are times, that fit-for-purpose software can prove that’s not the case. Uncomfortable as this may be, revelations like this can be made with a certain degree of confidence when vendors have been in the game for some time, which is a great segue for the next point… 
 
Practice makes perfect, right?  
 
Insights generation, like sports, takes practice – a lot of repetition. The very act of doing and making mistakes and learning what not to do is very helpful. But it’s not just you who benefits from learning.  
 
Those who were previously in the stands and are now in the game benefit from lifting their data literacy skills too. Not just that, they’ll gain an appreciation for and an understanding into the insights generation process, since much of the work we’ve done as market researchers has historically been done away from the spotlight.  
 
But what if you’re happy watching from the stands? 
 
As I said earlier. Being in the game isn’t for everyone. Some people are happy to demarcate insights generation and the rest of the business – whether it’s how they’ve always done things, or because it simply works. Time will tell on the effectiveness of such an approach, but as people’s data literacy levels soar, becoming more and more comfortable diving into numbers, it’s a reasonable assumption that being in the game is here to stay. Whichever camp you’re in, the need for generating insights has never been higher, so the future is bright. 
 
So, to wrap it all up… 
 
If you’re wondering if we’re trying to force our views on, which could be seen as being self-serving, but it’s not just us that take this approach. We are regularly in conversations with organizations who want to get involved in the game. They want to be the change agents. They see ResTech tools like Harmoni getting them in the starting line-up, closer to the data, discovering insights that only they could, due to their extensive knowledge of their own customers and industry. But they know they can’t do it alone - it’s teamwork. 
 
We've spent the last 32 years inviting our clients down from the stands and onto the pitch. They’ve put in the training, they’ve polished their skills, they’re playing the game. And they’re in a position to change it. Just like us. 
 
The final thought I’ll leave you with today is this: When your insights function is working well, you’ve got everyone playing the game who needs to be, and you’re making decisions that help lift the overall performance of your team on the pitch, you’ll start winning more often. And when this happens, you’ll start seeing more people want to watch from the stands. Be this your customers, prospects, and potential employees. And when your prospects like what they see, they’ll sooner or later become fans. And we all know what happens at that point.  
 

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