Are you responsible for insights or insight?

Can you remember reading something that changed the way you thought about something important?

Can you remember where you were sitting when you read it?

The Students Union?

Sitting at a desk in the office?

Or relaxing in a deckchair on a beach?

I have vivid memories of one of those moments when I was sitting in a bar in Oxford Street many years ago. The early evening rain was lashing down on the crowds outside, and the commuters were competing with the shoppers and the tourists for any free seats in the pub to escape from the weather.

It was January 2005, and I was in London to chair Marketing Week’s Research and Insight conference, and to get myself into the right frame of mind I was reading a report which a colleague had given me that afternoon.

It was written by Steve Wills and Sally Webb, the founders of the Insight Management Academy, and the more I read, the more I felt that they’d put their finger on many of the challenges faced by my Insight team at Barclays Bank.

Three points really stood out.

The first relates to the last 5 Minute Insight article: generating insights is all about focusing on the business issue and then applying whatever data and context you can to come up with a joined up solution.

The second, that there is no point generating insight unless it changes something in your organisation, will be the topic of the next two Insight Roadmap articles this summer.

But it’s a third point which I remember reading most clearly:

The IMA believes there is a big distinction between insights and insight, yet most organisations have Insight teams which focus mainly on insights.

This might sound a bit philosophical, but it’s really important.

Insight or insights?

There are many definitions of insights, and to be honest I’ve never managed to get too excited about which one people prefer. I’d go for something fairly straightforward like:

Insights are contextualised observations about customer value, behaviour, habits, circumstances, attitudes or environment, that have the potential to change how an organisation acts and makes money.

I hope that’s not too controversial.

But it was the report's view of insight which really got me thinking.

Insight is the collective knowledge about customers and markets which is derived from all the individual pieces of research and analysis.

We said last week that too many Insight teams focus on the technical aspects of managing research projects or doing analysis, and that insight generation is about more than that. It’s about solving business problems and adding money to the bottom line.

But effective Insight teams also recognise that there is always going to be more value in the collective insight which has been generated over years than in the latest individual project. If you’re going to act as business advisers, you want to draw on the best of everything your team know about a subject, not just on the new data you personally have gathered this month.

So what are the implications?

This has big implications for what Insight teams should spend their time doing, and what structures and skills they should be developing.

It also has implications for the processes and systems which need to be in place. In particular:

1.     Does the Insight team have a robust process for crystallising and recording the key insights generated in new pieces of work?

2.     Is sufficient time allocated to structuring, challenging and curating the accumulated knowledge which the organisation holds on key segments, products and channels?

3.     Is there a knowledge culture within the Insight team, with priority given to team meetings where accumulated insight is discussed and new evidence debated?

4.     Are there knowledge management systems to support this sort of culture? Or is there just a list of projects in a spreadsheet, or an intranet site which provides a graveyard for old pieces of research?

If your Insight team aspires to be a value-creating, problem-solving unit, then stop and think about the job roles of your people, and the allocation of time between managing new projects and leveraging existing knowledge.

Thinking about how to apply the knowledge which exists in a multitude of documents and other people’s heads isn’t a luxury. It’s one of the most important aspects of working in an Insight team, and often the best way to generate real value for your organisation.


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