How can we nail the business issue?

No Insight team can be effective without the ability to routinely discover new insights.

But if you attend a market research conference or listen to an agency proposal you could easily think that the process of generating insights is shrouded in mystery. 

Some people use the analogy of alchemy, the science of turning base metals into gold. Others describe generating insights as a quest for the Holy Grail.

The IMA believes that it really doesn’t have to be this complicated. It should be perfectly possible for intelligent people to draw commercially useful conclusions and recommendations from data and observation without the need for magic spells. 

So are we good at producing new insights?

Many Insight teams are not producing as many good insights as they should be. Insight leaders in the UK, Europe and North America routinely describe how their teams’ time is spent answering data questions, or managing research projects, the brief for which has been handed to them by other departments in the business. 

The wider organisation’s appetite for more facts and figures then encourages management to recruit more fact-finders. So the department that is supposed to be responsible for advising the company on how to be more successful, using customer and market knowledge, ends up being a data factory. Or a survey production line.

How can we generate insights?

There are 2 stages to successful insight generation. The second is the one that usually gets most attention: it’s the detective bit, the gathering of data and the process of deduction that leads to the ‘aha!’ moments. 

This is a critical stage, of course, and the IMA’s benchmarking data shows that most Insight teams could certainly be better at it.

But Einstein said that if he had an hour to solve a problem, he would spend 55 minutes thinking about the underlying problem and 5 minutes thinking about the solution to it. 

Most Insight projects fail because they start in the wrong place. Our analysts and researchers take a request for information – information that somebody else believes to be relevant to one part of an issue - and dutifully conduct research or analysis to find that data.

If our teams want to generate real insights that solve business issues, we have to move away from taking data requests and research briefs. We have to change our mindset, and improve our ability to nail the underlying business issue that needs to be solved.

How can we nail the business issue?

The IMA recommend a 3-step RED process to anyone who wants to nail the underlying issue:

Reflect: before we respond to requests from stakeholders, let’s stop and think. 

What’s the context for the question being asked? What do we know about this market, customer segment, brand or product from previous analysis? What do we know about the revenue and costs associated with it? What has our company tried to do before in this space? What is it trying to do now?

Engage: we cannot generate insights in a vacuum, we need to speak to business decision-makers.

The stakeholder who asked us for the new research might have a clever plan for how they are going to use the new data to help them to solve a problem or a seize a new opportunity. Or they might be passing along a request from their boss, which has probably gone to other departments as well, sowing the seed for contradictory data and a confused strategy. You decide which is more likely in your company!

But every member of the IMA has found that they can generate better insights by talking to decision-makers, probing their assumptions, providing context and challenge to the way a problem has been framed.

Diagnose: the underlying issue, just like a doctor or a management consultant.

The IMA loves the SCQAB model for structuring Insight projects – establish the broad situation, identify the new complexity or challenge that has arisen, then keep drilling down until you are satisfied that you are looking at the true issue that the business needs to address.

Once you have nailed the issue, then the fun part, the detective work, can begin. But there is no point in us spending hours on analysis, or deploying the cleverest market research techniques, until we have really nailed the issue.

If you have another 5 minutes...

The IMA has now published over 30 Insight leader guides, including IMP104: How to nail the business issue. If your employer is a member of the IMA, and you have an online account to access member content, you can click here to read it now. Remember that you will need to login.

If your organisation is not yet a member, but you think it would benefit from our best practice work and other members’ expertise, please contact us today.

The IMA will also be providing a series of open courses in 2020, including Consultancy skills for Insight teams which can provide guidance to corporate Insight professionals on thie topic.