Staying on top of your target consumers’ needs and desires is a complex business. The value of quality insights is immeasurable to any organization that wants to develop and maintain a strong connection to customers, but these insights are often tricky to come by.
Unfortunately, times are tough for many insights departments, with budgets and headcounts being cut while expectations for delivering business value are growing. Few have the capacity or resources to manage large consumer research projects in-house. Very often, too, a skills gap exists, with only a small number of staff capable of conceiving and executing a large-scale research project.
But outsourcing consumer research products has many drawbacks too. While agencies bring a high level of expertise and experience, taking this approach is more expensive and time-consuming. More so, outsourcing means less agility and an overall loss of control of the insights from your internal team, which can result in generic, irrelevant, or unusable outputs.
To sidestep these faux pas altogether, insights professionals should be looking to decrease their reliance on outside agencies and instead focus on enhancing and streamlining their internal processes. In this article, I will outline how they can achieve this while also bringing increased value to their organization.
Democratizing access to quality data
Using self-serve research tools usually involves a payoff – what you gain in speed and flexibility you lose in data quality. But this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. It’s about finding the right hybrid tool for your business – something that is straightforward enough to help you to ask the right questions and interrogate the data effectively, while also providing you with on-demand human expertise when and where you need it.
Asking the right questions is key to getting the right data. A good platform should offer strong templates in order to extract quality responses, but also have experienced people on hand to guide you along if you need help. Remember though – no matter how good the questions are, unless you are asking the right people, you won’t get high-quality results. It’s key to understand how the tool gathers responses – just who is being asked and how are they being incentivized? There must be a tight fit with your target audience. Of course, to be certain the results are of high quality, there need to be checks and balances in place. A hybrid platform should automate this process, using AI to flag impossible and improbable responses, though this needs to be supplemented by human intervention.
By ensuring that the tool caters to these needs, it becomes possible to democratize research projects across the business. If it is easy enough for all to use while providing the necessary guidance to carry out effective projects then tasks can be delegated, meaning your brand can get an even deeper understanding of its audience while staff members are able to develop their research skills.
This is best summed up by a common pain point I gathered from a conversation with Tripp Hughes, Senior Director of Consumer Strategy at Organic Valley, who was finding it difficult to delegate a high level of shopper insights requests to other members of his team. “For a lot of our day-to-day work we had been using other tools that weren’t necessarily user-friendly, easy to use or intuitive,” Hughes explains. “We were looking for a tool with a fairly rapid turnaround and I wanted my team to be able to use it themselves, I didn’t want to have to go out and hire somebody else.”
Get the insights you need, when you need them
Relying on an agency partner to perform research tasks for you means you could be waiting a long time for the results. Once you have selected an agency, briefed them, and given them the time to conduct the research and crunch the numbers, the data insights generated could be months out of date. The agency model also isn’t appropriate for those times when marketers need to quickly validate a hunch in order to make customer-friendly tweaks to their products.
Priyal Kanabar, Customer Insight Manager at leading online pension provider PensionBee, told me that her company began receiving calls from customers who wanted to exclude oil companies from their investments. By using a self-serve research platform she was able to see that the desire for a sustainable and ethical plan was common among customers, providing the company with the evidence it needed to develop a Fossil Fuel Free Plan in a very short space of time – much sooner and at a lower cost than if it had used an agency to undertake the necessary research. Ultimately, the speedy response from the insights team led to £45 million in commitments from people pledging to switch their existing plans to oil-free investments.
Create a continuous conversation with your customers
As we can see from the above example, taking research in-house allows you to be continuously tapped into the customer to answer business-critical questions when needed. It’s critical that insights departments can understand the needs of their stakeholders as and when they change. In fact, the goal should be proactive rather than reactive, anticipating the shifts in customer behaviour before they happen.
Using agencies for market research doesn’t allow you to have this ongoing relationship with customers. It’s too time-consuming and expensive to do more than a couple of times a year and doesn’t leave room for error. However, with a self-serve platform, you can quickly ask follow-up questions if you feel inclined to dig even deeper into the insights gathered from the originals. Small, highly-targeted insights can be gained in moments; and you don’t have to rely solely on data from large projects that might have taken place six months ago. Self-serve platforms can take you much closer to the ultimate aim of having every critical decision informed by customer insights.
Own your data and make sure you get the full picture
One of the biggest problems with using an agency to conduct research is that you are not in full control of the research process or the data it generates. Agencies might not have a complete understanding of your business and the industry it operates in, meaning context is lost from research projects and key insights could be missed altogether.
Taking research in-house puts you closer to the data, meaning you not only have more control over customer feedback but you are in a better position to share insights across the business. Insight departments may struggle to communicate their findings to other parts of the organisation at the best of times, but if they have full control over all of the insights and data visualizations then it becomes a whole lot easier. Louisianna Waring, Senior Insight and Policy Officer at The Vegan Society told me that maintaining ownership of consumer data was critical to her organization’s drive to tell compelling stories backed by insights, ensuring that they extend not only across individual teams, but beyond the society itself, thus helping to increase the profile of veganism.
While the process of bringing consumer research back in-house might seem overwhelming, there are many compelling reasons for brands to consider doing so beyond mere cost savings. In today’s fast-paced world, continuous insights is the only way to make consumer understanding a competitive advantage. It allows you to be truly tapped into your target audience – how they think, act and buy – while ensuring that you’re never left behind or playing catch up.