Keep It Moving: Timing is Everything, Pt. 1 – The Pressure to Respond

The world is changing, and with that comes pressure on businesses to respond faster. To support our clients, we’re sharing the most valuable learnings from The Better Why: a report for insights leaders and customer activists.

All businesses are seeking competitive advantage by being one step ahead of the competition on fast changing consumer preferences. ‘Agile’ has been the business world’s response (however often it might be misunderstood as a byword for ‘fast’).

The insights function has often been on the receiving end of this change. Traditionally preferring to take its time being rigorous and a perfectionist, it has been pressured to ‘speed up’ by unsatisfied business partners. But it’s not necessarily speed that these partners are asking for – when we get down to the detail it seems that speed is only one part of the equation … it’s really about being timely.

But that misunderstanding has been the result of insights functions’ frequent dawdling on the issue. Insights needs to go from being the support function that ‘drags its feet’ to a ‘forward-thinking facilitator’ that is nimbly involved from start to finish of any project. The days of waiting for research projects to complete before making decisions are long gone. The challenge for insight teams is that legacy skillsets and structures are no longer fit for purpose. While specialized researchers and data analysts are still very much needed, most training and development initiatives in teams now revolve around creating T-shaped professionals, where the horizonal line represents any and all of the skills required to build a bridge with the rest of the business. The words “strategy consultants” “commercially savvy,” “convincing communicators” “curious challengers” and “growth mindset” have become the new must-haves.

High-performing insight teams are those in which the gap between insight and business decision-making is narrow or nonexistent. In these, department heads evaluate their teams on their capacity to answer business questions, not research questions. This means an understanding of the tradeoffs between time and rigor.

But it also means resourcefulness: high-performing insight divisions are collaborating more fully with external partners to deliver better value internally. Partnerships/placements with agencies and marketing/sales teams in the business is one way to train and retain talent. Collaboration with peers in noncompetitive companies is another way brands are pooling resources to generate foresight and anticipate customer behavior.

And internally, they’re collaborating more with different stakeholders, applying Design Thinking to identify where, when, and how insight is being used to inform decisions so they can spot the best opportunities to input. One insight leader described this as “an ongoing journey, where insight teams need to impress stakeholders constantly to get invited back into the room the next time around.”

There needs to be a focus on timeliness within the business, with a consequent understanding of the tradeoffs that have to be made in terms of rigor in order to support any business decision.

Anticipation is key, extending insight into the anticipation of future consumer behaviors will score points – consider using real time predictions of purchase behaviors, forging creative partnerships with peers in non-competitive companies. A great example here is Gravity and the Foresight Academy. It’s critical to determine effective criteria for prioritizing and identifying what really matters in the business and whether additional resources are needed if the work becomes a higher priority.

By considering your agency as a partner you can work with them to identify ways to speed up processes. In highly regulated industries like financial services or pharmaceuticals, this means fast tracking internal approvals and front-loading recruitment where possible. Recruitment is often the cause of slow research and one of the reasons why a subscription model enables faster decision making.


For more, download The Better Why Report: lessons, case studies and advice from 400+ insights leaders from global brands on their key challenges, what they’re doing to tackle them and how the world of insights is evolving.