How to approach Insight investigations

With most countries in North America and Europe in lockdown, corporate Insight professionals are having to reassess the way they conduct market research.

We are also having to analyse new patterns in consumer behaviour on our databases, and check the relevance of all those insights we have drawn from previous projects.

It's worth spending a few minutes thinking about the Insight work you would currently be doing right now if you worked in another sector. The IMA's corporate members include major supermarkets, banks, manufacturers, hotel chains, restaurant groups, cruise ship owners, online retailers, hospitals, transport services and funeral providers, amongst others.

There is no sector in that list that hasn't seen a massive impact of some sort. And no organisation that won't require more rather than less Customer and Market Insight over the coming year.

In times of turmoil we need to think creatively, but we also need to remember the key principles. So what are the key principles of running Insight investigations?

Key principles

The IMA has a 4-step process. It begins with generating hypotheses, because long experience has taught us that it's better to be a Columbo than a Columbus when it comes to Insight.

Yes we all need to explore unchartered territory from time to time, but for consistent success it's better to start with hypotheses. The important thing of course is to spend as much time trying to disprove them as we do trying to substantiate them!

We then move on to the exploration phase, the fun bit for many, the chance to talk to consumers, analyse new data, observe dynamics we hadn't seen before, and make new connections. And that's followed by interpretation, because Insight teams cannot fulfil their potential - to identify value and drive change - if we produce the data then walk away.

In practice the hypotheses - exploration - interpretation stages are highly iterative. We are constantly generating theories about what is going on, then seeking evidence, then interpreting it and amending our hypotheses.

And finally, we need to form evidence-based opinions. Opinions about the answer to the business question we set out to answer, but also about how our new insights knit together with everything else we know. The most important opinions relate to 3 questions:

  1. How and why do consumers in our market become customers of our organisation, and create value for it?
  2. How might this change if we alter our propositions, or there is a new trend in the market?
  3. What should our organisations do differently to take advantage of the opportunities and minimise the risks?

But that's not the full story

Before we leave the topic of Insight investigations, let's remember 2 other key principles of effective Insight management:

This is not the beginning... because the place that most Insight investigations go wrong is actually before they have even started. We are pretty much guaranteed to fail unless we spend time nailing the real business issue before we investigate it. If we accept an ill-considered research brief or 'can you just...?' data request then we'll only ever provide fragmented contributions to business problems.

And quite possibly misleading ones, because Insight is all about context.

This is not the end... because the opinions we form at the end of our Insight investigations merely provide us with the ammunition to drive change. But whether our decision-makers listen to us will have at least as much to do with our influence and communication skills as with the quality of our insights.

So as we all adapt to changing circumstances, yes, let us be agile and creative in our approach to Insight. But let's also not forget why we do the jobs that we do. That sense of purpose - to identify value for our organisations and drive change within them - has never been more important.

Would you like to know more?

The IMA has now published 5 Insight leader guides on the topic of Insight generation:

IMP101: An introduction to Insight generation

IMP102: How to create joined-up insight

IMP103: How to make up the numbers

IMP104: How to nail the business issue

IMP105: How to approach Insight investigations

There are another 33 online guides available on other topics, and you can read them on our website whenever you like if your employer is a member of the IMA and you have an online account with us. If you're not sure if you can access them, please contact us.