The Corporate Researchers Conference (CRC) took a different form this year: the Insights Association moved the event online, with sessions and networking events spread out over the course of three weeks. But while the event itself looked a little different, it was still packed with engaged attendees, standout case studies, and compelling sessions looking towards the future of the market research and customer insights industry.
Below are five of the biggest lessons we took away from this year’s virtual CRC:
Knowledge Engagement Is Critical for Insights Success
Market research can be a powerful tool for driving strategic business decisions–but not if it isn’t shared beyond the line manager who commissioned it. The challenge of sharing insights to maximize their impact isn’t new, but there’s a renewed interest in the topic this year at a time when businesses can’t afford to waste their market research budgets.
In his presentation on increasing access to insights, Dan Schechter, Manager of Global Consumer & Member Insights at Herbalife Nutrition, shared the story of how his internationally distributed team overcame the challenge of siloed information and insights. He explained that due to difficulty being able to find research within Herbalife’s internal insights repository, his team began looking for a platform that would not just house research, but empower people to engage with it.
After thoroughly vetting several solutions, Herbalife chose Bloomfire as their new research library. Schechter cited ease of use as one of the deciding factors, since Herbalife needed a platform that felt familiar and didn’t require extensive training to encourage team members to use it regularly. The ability to search across all content types was also crucial; one of the main reasons Herbalife’s previous research library had low engagement was because it only allowed users to search by titles, and “90 percent of the time, nothing came up.”
Schechter and his team have already seen results from adopting a research library that encourages knowledge engagement: he reported that twice as many people now search the library on a weekly basis, and 95 percent team members say they are always able to find what they’re looking for.
Iterative Research Helps Brands Keep Pace with Consumers
One thing that’s become clear in 2020 is that businesses need to move quickly to keep up with the rapidly changing needs, behaviors, and mindsets of their customers. From the perspective of market research teams, this means conducting new research and distilling insights in a matter of weeks rather than months.
Many research teams have embraced online platforms and research methodologies that allow them to collect and act on customer feedback in real time. For example, Lauren Marshall, Manager of Brand Strategy and Insights at Boston Beer Company, shared how her organization is using online insights communities to test early scripts, reels, and animatics. They’re able to efficiently gather customer feedback on their storytelling approach and present their learnings to internal stakeholders, who can then make informed decisions on their brands’ messaging and advertising.
Kip Knight, founder of CMO Coaches, also advocated for using internet panels and pulse surveys to get quick responses—and then using these insights to drive timely decisions. “All business decisions are a calculated risk,” he reminded CRC attendees during his keynote session. He recommended that businesses act when the insights they uncover give them a 70 percent chance of a desired outcome, rather than waiting to get closer to 100 percent certainty and falling behind their customers’ needs.
Empathy Must Be Built Into Design Thinking
Empathy was another popular topic at CRC this year, with several presentations discussing how empathy must be integrated into frameworks such as design thinking. With design thinking, for example, researchers must reframe challenges and test solutions from a customer-centric perspective, which can’t be accomplished without empathy.
In her session on design thinking in retail, Meeta Patel, VP of Consumer Experience for Under Armour, suggested that organizations need to develop a culture of empathy that brings together heads-down mindsets (solving a known problem) and heads-up mindsets (imagining new possibilities). One example of this approach might be collecting qualitative data on what customers are saying, combining that with operational data, and democratizing that data across the enterprise so that all team members can benefit from it. This gives all employees a holistic view of the customer experience, helping them to think from the customer perspective when solving problems or making business decisions.
Customers Must Be at Center of Company Purpose
There are many far-reaching benefits of being a customer-centric company, as Sam Herzing and David Robbins of Gongos highlighted in their CRC session. In a study with Harvard Business Review, Gongos found that the key differences of customer-committed companies include better employee engagement, a better customer experience, meaningful differentiation in the marketplace, and increased growth.
However, companies can’t just declare that they are “customer-centric” and expect to reap the benefits. Fortunately, insights teams are well positioned to help their organizations truly place the customer at the center of their company purpose. Insights teams can ensure that all research focuses on both business outcomes and customer outcomes and, when sharing their findings, clearly communicate what their recommended actions will do for both the business and the customer. They can also customize their insights to different functional audiences, ultimately “connecting the dots between customer needs and the teams best positioned to meet them.”
Insights Teams Have New Opportunities to Lead
While 2020 has been a volatile year, it has also revealed new opportunities for insights teams to guide their stakeholders and become true sources of competitive advantage for their organizations. This was a common thread that research leaders from Ulta, Colgate-Palmolive, New York Life, Prudential, Samsung, and Voya Financial shared during their panel session, Elevating the Role of Insights in the Next Reality.
Richard Thorogood, VP, Global Head of Consumer and Market Insights, Colgate-Palmolive, shared that at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, “The organization suddenly had to rely on insights to guide them during a period of uncertainty.” Roberto Cymrot, Director of Consumer Insights at Samsung, echoed this sentiment, saying that his team is being asked much bigger research questions than before the pandemic.
With many insights teams seeing increased buy-in from their stakeholders, it’s time for research leaders to think about how they can keep up their momentum and continue being strategic partners to their businesses in 2021 and beyond. As Donn Froshiesar, VP of Strategy and Marketing Operations at New York Life, pointed out, businesses need to be thinking about how to engage consumers and deliver meaningful experiences in a post-COVID world. Insights teams can’t lose sight of opportunities to inform both short- and long-term decisions around the customer experience.