Getting More Impact From Your Insights

Getting More Impact From Your Insights

Across a variety of industries, insights managers are concerned about the impact they’re having. Evidence suggests that effective insights leaders get traction by employing techniques that increase their odds of success.

Companies report that market insights are a critical component of their business planning activities. At the same time, insights professionals report that they continue to struggle to get the ‘Voice of the Customer’ included in strategic decision-making. Everyone agrees that, in times of rapid change, it’s vital to have an intimate understanding of your customer. And yet, very few companies are getting the most out of that information.

Over the past two decades, Jump Associates has had the opportunity to work with hundreds of insights professionals across a variety of industries. Coming up with the insight is only half the battle; the other half involves gaining meaningful traction for those insights in the organization. In order to gain such traction, many insights teams are investing in improving their storytelling abilities. Unfortunately, even great storytelling can get ignored by decision-makers who are strongly opinionated, stressed out, or simply distracted.

Amidst these challenges, Jump has observed a small number of insights teams who are able to deliver outsized impact to their companies. The biggest differentiators show up in their approach. There are a small set of tactics that any insights professional can employ to increase the impact of the work they do.

Getting More Impact From Your Insights

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1. Align your initiatives to the company’s strategic priorities.

Sometimes, the most well-intentioned insights projects are sidelined before they’re even started. This isn’t a reflection of the quality of the insights. Rather, it’s a result of the attention span of the organization. Even in places that are well suited to manage complexity, leaders can only focus their teams on a few strategic initiatives. If your work is part of these initiatives, you’re helping. And you will attract the involvement of key stakeholders. If it isn’t, you’re selling. And that sales pitch can seem like a well-meaning distraction.

Instead, take the time to understand your company’s biggest strategic priorities. In some firms, those priorities are obvious. In others, you may have to do your own research. If you work for a public company, listen to the analysts calls. Read the annual report. Ask business unit leaders what keeps them up at night. Effective insights leaders have a clear understanding of their organization’s strategic priorities, and they recast their projects to be part of those initiatives.

A few years ago, Jump worked with an insights manager at a consumer electronics company who was having difficulty getting traction for her project. During the quarterly earnings call with analysts, her CEO underscored the importance of better leveraging the opportunity presented by streaming apps like Spotify and Pandora. She wasted no time recasting her project to be about the future of streaming, with an emphasis on how Spotify users were listening to music on their phones. Her project now seemed like a core initiative rather than a tangential fishing expedition. Not only was the project quickly funded, but the resulting recommendations were presented to the executive leadership team for follow-up.

2. Frame projects as needs, not solutions.

Too often, projects are scoped in a way that restricts innovation to modestly incremental results. For example, if a company like Sony starts a project on the future of CD players, the very question sets them up to be blindsided by the digital music revolution. This issue is really one of differentiating the need from the solution. Businesses tend to think in terms of the solutions they sell. Instead, insights teams must recast those projects to be about the needs they serve.

When scoping a project with stakeholders, clearly understand what they’d like to accomplish. But don’t stop there. Reframe those ideas to be about the people you serve and the needs they have. An easy way to do this is to rephrase a noun into verb so that your CD Player Project becomes about listening to music on the go. Defining your project in terms of needs, rather than solutions, will help ensure that the results have the greatest possible impact on the business.

3. Create experiences to help stakeholders shift their thinking.

Over time, experienced insights leaders develop a finely tuned sense of what their customers really think. But, how can they help the rest of the organization develop a similar intuition? As we’ve discussed, improved storytelling capabilities haven’t always helped. Why? Because many decision-makers don’t want to hear the story in the first place. They’re often seeking validation for the point of view they walked in with. And at the end of the day, decision-makers like to make decisions for themselves.

Recognizing this challenge, successful insights teams are spending less time on improved storytelling and more time on improved experiences. They’re crafting two-hour or two-day sessions where business leaders can watch uncut videos or talk to customers firsthand. Rather than acting as master storytellers, these insights leaders act as guides, helping decision-makers to come to conclusions on their own. Invariably, these insights teams are leading their stakeholders down a path to conclusions that they’ve already made in advance. But the experience of getting there can help decision-makers feel bought into the process. Insights teams have greater impact when creating experiences that enable leaders to come to conclusions on their own.

Today, Target insights teams pair their reports with Guest Immersions. During these two-day sessions, business leaders meet consumers firsthand for several hours, and then regroup to discuss what they learned and make choices about what to do next. It’s not uncommon for a decision maker to start off the session with strongly held beliefs, only to abandon them after spending time with a consumer in their home. Importantly, Target CEO Brian Cornell has been the primary champion of the work, attending several Guest Immersions a year to stay in touch with Target guests.

4. Ask teams to identify what they’ll do differently.

It can be incredibly disheartening to an insights manager when stakeholders hear about findings, smile and nod, and then go do what they were going to do anyway. Sometimes, this is unavoidable. A business leader or team can simply be unwilling to change course. Yet there are also times when insights managers have the power to help a team shift direction. The most successful leaders do one simple thing to identify opportunities for change: they ask. At the end of a meeting or experience, they prompt decision-makers to identify one or two things that the company should do differently as a result of the project.

Great insight leaders need to act like great strategists. They need to push their teams to think about tangible changes they can make to their businesses based on their insights work. What would stakeholders do differently? What would they stop doing? What would they start doing? Decision makers will often tell you, if only you stop to ask.

Jump worked with the Stanford Children’s Hospital to improve how they care for children with leukemia. Together, we conducted hundreds of hours of empathy-building research and developed multiple recommendations that would transform the model of care. The challenge was that medical professionals can be highly skeptical of change, despite their best intentions. After crafting a compelling experience, and presenting leaders with the data, we asked them what they would do differently. Leaders came up with many ideas that were similar to what the team had created, but added others that we hadn’t thought of. More importantly, it created a groundswell of support for the program. The result was a successful model that’s being rolled out nationwide.

5. Communicate recommendations as a one-page strategy.

There’s something about conducting hours of painstaking research that makes it difficult for some of us to cut down a report to anything less than a 50-page slide deck. Unfortunately, long decks make for little impact. Between distractions, job stress, a lack of sleep, and days of meetings and nights of emails, most business leaders simply don’t read anymore. If you’re reading this right now, you are different from the vast majority of business professionals.

Recognizing this, many effective insights leaders are becoming masters in the art of brevity. At Jump, every insights project results in a set of Strategic Imperatives, three to five broad directives that a company should implement to take action on a strategy. The imperatives need to be short, pithy and memorable. And they need to fit on a single page. Work with your decision-makers to create concise statements of what they’ll do next. Think about how you can express ideas as simple metaphors that anyone can understand. And articulate what a business should do, as well as should not do. To ensure your strategy gets noticed and used, condense it into a short list of concise, memorable statements that people can refer to and use every day.

A few years back, we worked with Target to reinvent their sporting goods department. A differentiation factor is that their sporting goods section focuses on families having casual fun together. The imperative that captured this said, “Think Picnic, Not Marathon.” That succinct sentence captured a whole idea about focusing on casual, family experiences, not intense, performance-oriented activities. Target aligned its entire sporting goods team around this and four other simple directives. The result was that the strategy stuck. A few months later, Target was approached by a national chain of fitness centers that was interested in doing a partnership. In declining the opportunity, the manager in charge simply explained, “You guys are too marathon. We’re more picnic.”

Focus on anchoring in strategic priorities and designing experiences that drive empathy.

Successful insights leaders align their initiatives to the company’s strategic priorities, so they won’t seem like a distraction. They frame projects as needs, not solutions so that they don’t get stuck in a box of small changes. They consciously create experiences to help decision-makers make decisions for themselves. They get teams to actively think about what they’ll do differently simply by asking the question. And they work hard to condense the recommendations that they co-create into a strategy that fits on a single page.

Of course, these tactics can be challenging to implement at first. Every company has its own peculiarities. Moreover, the overall approach requires managers to be more than insights professionals. They need to be strategists and facilitators and designers of experiences. That can be hard to do at first. However, the result of such a hybrid approach is an ultimately lasting impact on the company and a greater sense of satisfaction for the individuals who are affected by that change.

Ryan Baum

Partner

Ryan is a partner and advisor to Fortune 500 executives, setting the course for large-scale transformation and aggressive growth. He helped a major airline clarify and roll out a new corporate strategy, partnered with an automotive company to recapture the Millennial market, and helped a technology giant break into the healthcare industry.