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Help Your Insights Team Deliver

Help Your Insights Team Deliver

David Smith and BV Pradeep

brain with arms and legs lifting barbell

Insights teams that are allowed to play strategic roles in organizations have proved their importance to direction and growth. But overall, they’re underused.

As marketers, you know that data can be an incredibly valuable tool to guide new developments, hit new demographics and understand consumer needs. But as with the marketing team, insights teams have a huge amount of pressure to prove the ROI.

ESOMAR, the global association for data and insight, embarked on a study to explore return on research investment in customer insight. It conducted in-depth interviews with insight leaders in major organizations—including Diageo, eBay, Heineken, Microsoft, Pepsi and Nissan—and extensively researched existing literature.

ESOMAR found that in regard to assessing ROI, no organization feels that it has discovered the perfect solution, although many are comfortable with the approach they’re taking. Most organizations—whether they endeavor to attribute formal, precise ROI metrics to insight, use metrics selectively or are openly resistant to formal ROI assessment—feel that a silver-bullet solution is almost impossible.


But there is a universal agreement across global industry leaders that insights teams need to ensure a position within an organization that allows them to play a strategic role, not just a tactical one.

The success of the insights team in many organizations is symbiotic to that of the marketing team. ROI will be clearer and growth easier if you support your insights team and get the best out of it, tactically and strategically.

Pillar One

Focus on value creation. The core purpose of an internal customer insights team is to add value. Ensure that it constantly acts with intentionality to deliver this purpose.

The primary role of insight is to future-proof the organization, equipping it to deal with disruption and change. Make sure your insights team is the go-to team when it comes to identifying and outlining the implications of powerful strategic foresights. Insight should not be boxed into the corner of being perceived as a reactive, market-research, order-taking cost center.

  • Strategic foresight: Insight should build a reputation for being able to quickly seize critical opportunities that lie at the heart of driving value and growth in the business.
  • Proactive, not reactive: Rather than approach the insights team for reactive market research for business decisions, get the team involved straightaway and provide its members room to look for trends and developments that can grow the business.
  • Commercial acumen: The insights team needs to demonstrate the business impact that customer insight is having on the business. By showcasing business acumen and commercial awareness, the insights team becomes a value creator. Clarify this expectation and provide the necessary support.

The success of the insights team in many organizations is symbiotic to that of the marketing team. ROI will be clearer and growth easier if you support your insights team and get the best out of it, tactically and strategically.

Pillar Two

Ensure the insights team has access to the C-suite and business strategy. This will allow it to deliver powerful customer insights.

It is important for insights to be connected with the C-suite. This keeps the team aware of the organization’s business vision and future strategy and will ensure customer insights inform business thinking. This positioning will also help customer insight professionals gain access to all sources of data we now use to derive a customer insight.

  • Customer centricity: Insight should guide the business’s consumer behavior strategy. Make sure that when the data behind a decision is being presented to the C-suite, the insights team is involved, providing the opportunity to bring the voice of the consumer into the boardroom.
  • Holistic analysis leadership: Has the insights team secured access to all customer insights data available within the business? Is it building a reputation as the expert of integrating the evidence into a holistic picture to tell the customer story?
  • Being an insights champion: Use your position to build a reputation as being the insights champion. Insights teams should have the strategic vision and forensic energy to unearth powerful insights that tell us how best to change and influence customer behavior. By providing the space, resources and encouragement to the insights team, it can lead the way to use digital-, AI- and machine learning-generated insights.

Pillar Three

Show the value of insights through a mix of success criteria, not just ROI.

You should be confident that benchmarks and ROI-style metrics are not the only ways the insights team is being evaluated by senior stakeholders. These measures have a role to play, but they only provide a narrow assessment. The key is to use a mix of hard and soft measures. There was widespread concern that going down the ROI route would box customer insights into the corner as a cost center, rather than a value creator. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Resisting the tyranny of metrics: How close are you to hitting the sweet spot between ROI metrics and using more qualitative measures to show the success and effectiveness of insight?
  • Telling the insight story: Are you telling insight success stories, those that demonstrate the value of insight? Where are you in terms of deploying innovative communications techniques to demonstrate the way insight is setting the future direction of the business?
  • Creating a learning organization: Is the team taking responsibility for creating a learning organization with insights at the center of an agile, customer-centric culture that is capable of continually adapting to change?

The insights team can be a powerful tool for any business, but many insights team are underused and underappreciated. These are teams fundamentally geared toward direction and growth. To get the most out of your insights team, you must collaborate with them. It’s important to provide support, but it’s equally vital to ensure that your expectations are clear. Transparent, collaborative work can transform a business.

The ESOMAR project was led by Smith and ESOMAR Director General Finn Raben. Their work also included Real Research Director Adam Phillips, ESOMAR North American Ambassador Reg Baker and Heart Data President Vanessa Oshima. In addition, Pradeep has been closely involved as the ESOMAR council member overseeing the project.

David Smith is founder and director of DVL Smith.

BV Pradeep is global vice president of consumer and market insights at Unilever.