By Catherine Yuile, Executive Vice President of Insights & Analytics, Edelman. Catherine is a Financial Times & HERoes Champions of Business Top 10 Future Female Leader & Role Model who loves leading and collaborating with teams to drive business and personal success. With 20+ years of market research and analytics experience driving brand communications, advertising & media strategy, Catherine is a results-oriented, accomplished leader who employs creative and strategic thinking to inspire teams and clients to aspire for more.

Insights as a business function is at a critical point in its transformation journey. Only one in four marketers reported high levels of confidence in their ability to measure the ROI of their media or trade spend, yet 79% expect to increase their investment in marketing analytics and attribution in the next year (Source: The Nielsen CMO Report). The need and opportunity for insights and analytics leaders to take the lead on this is clear.

What marketers want

Senior marketers want the research function to have a high-level focus, helping to drive strategic, and business-wide decisions. But, only one in four senior marketers perceive the research function today as a strategic consultant (Source: The World Federation of Advertisers Future of Insights Project).  Even insights leaders don’t see themselves as strategic consultants, with only two in five seeing themselves this way. Instead, stakeholders are more likely to see the research function as a librarian or caddy (Source: The World Federation of Advertisers Future of Insights Project). There is a huge opportunity to elevate insights into strategy to inform and influence the C-Suite.

Strategists setting the table

The call for insights & analytics to lead organizations’ business is bigger than ever before. At an industry conference a couple of years ago, Jennifer Lang, AVP, Customer & Brand Insights at TD, asked researchers to aspire to “set vs. just be at the table.” To do this, there needs to be a fundamental shift from researcher and craft master to business consultant and strategist/internal influencer. Insights professionals must focus on relationship-building with key stakeholders, storytelling/facilitation of conversations and consensus building skills vs. technical skills & expertise. Research groups should be striving for the 4 “Cs:” consultant, creative, curious, and collaborative. It is also important for researchers to continue to show their passion for getting to organizational “buy in” and demonstrate the value of investment to stakeholders.

Gaining clarity to influence

Data and insights need to influence leadership and drive organizational change. Translating insights into solutions requires influence and a great understanding the decision cycle. Where is the stakeholder in the cycle and what alignments might they be seeking and/or pushbacks they may be faced with from other key business stakeholders?  Insights professionals need to ensure that they understand the background context behind research requests. This transparency and perspective is critical for influencing and establishing trust. The best way to do this is to engage key stakeholders from the start and understand their objectives by asking questions, actively listening, and clarifying, clarifying, clarifying. Researchers should be spending as much time on the upfront briefing, focused on objective setting, and planning, as the time being spent on the backend data tabulation and reporting.

Activating insights

The research team’s job is to translate the data for their business partners and internal stakeholders so that they get it. Research should always provide the 3-5 main key insights and the related actions to business. In other words, only tell the story that matters. Ask for an activation session instead of a results presentation and transform the structure of internal research presentations into more workshop style delivery where 30 mins is focused on highlighting and insights, and 30 minutes is focused on action plans and accountability.

Driving the business

Insights professionals can create the most impact by helping key business partners and stakeholders get their marketing budgets right, capitalize growth opportunities, and protect brand safety.  As insights leaders, we need to focus on the business, adopting to different stakeholders, and answering business challenges. No longer is it okay to just be a technical master craft researchers. We now also need to be influencers, strategists, and marketers.

At a recent local Toronto Client Side Research Industry Event, Tracy Muxlow from Talent Innovation said that companies want market researchers with a marketing personality – a mix of strategy/business consulting and softer interpersonal and communication skills. The top skills that companies are looking for in research leaders are: an authoritative and persuasive voice at the table who demonstrates leadership, passion and conviction, driving ROI with business acumen, able to influence the organization, while also demonstrating flexibility and curiousity, and building open, positive relationships and confidence with engagement throughout the process. It’s quite the list and it goes without saying that the research technical skills are at best, the cost of entry today. Researchers need to be the strategic planning function and vision for where the company is heading; someone who can translate what companies know to what they should do about it.

Cost of average research

Finally, it is also important for insights professionals to go beyond information order taking and to stay humble and honest in our approach. If there is risk to the quality and actionability of the insights that are being sought, then insights professionals need to be clear to stakeholders that there is risk to the business as well. There is a high cost of average research.  Not only is it a waste of company investment and time, it can also result in questionable data quality, dissatisfied internal stakeholders, a damaged reputation and relationship, and even greater harm to the perception of the greater insights and analytics industry.

Research for ROI

With more data sources available to us than ever before, and complex business, marketing and communications landscape to navigate, there is no doubt that this is an exciting time to be an insights and analytics professional. Now, let’s ensure that we are also able to translate and share that data effectively to realize its ultimate ROI in influencing the organization strategically in order to drive business growth, and earning a seat at, and eventually setting the business leadership table.