Managing democratized data for strategic insights.

How to make customer data more accessible, champion collaborative mindsets and ensure teams throughout your business feel ownership of a customer-driven strategy.

An insight function’s ability to determine which combination of datasets will reveal growth opportunities and organize them into one overarching view of the customer is paramount to having a seat at the table.

Data are the lifeblood of customer understanding, the connective tissue. Earning respect and building relationships requires that the insight function build this connective infrastructure in a way that is authentic (and empowering) for both the business and the customers – and this is true whether you’re working with full digital stacks, or scrappier customer data.

The big risks to brands in the multiplication of customer data sources.

With the commoditization of product, the emphasis has moved to ‘service,’ as championed so famously by Starbucks. Service is a complex concept though. Immune to precise classification or repetition, it needs to be constantly adapted on a case-by-case basis as a solution to a complex world of consumer expectations. With service, brand has become increasingly important, alongside omni-channel and, most relevant for us, ‘customer experience.’

The problem of customer experience is cohesiveness. How do we create a consistent customer experience across, potentially innumerable touch points, teams and employees? The insight function has often been tapped to understand the shopper journey but has struggled to uncover deep human truths in the overall CX landscape.

The challenge is that you have different groups across the company executing DIY surveys and research and then sharing the results with executives to make decisions worth tens of millions of dollars.  

Allen Whitehouse, Senior Director, Consumer & Market Insights, GE Appliances

The key barrier has been the multiplication of data sources, and the number of teams who own these ‘intelligences’ – creating a three-fold risk for organizations:

  • Multiple view of the customer, ultimately leading to a confusing CX overall
  • Knowledge loss through siloed intelligence
  • Dilution of truth

The role insight leaders must play in connecting customer intelligence and driving business growth.

Our findings are echoed by findings from the  Market Research Society, the largest independent research body in the world, which describes this system as Intelligence Capital: “a comprehensive knowledge asset coupled by the capability to use that asset to identify and activate growth opportunities.”

The insight function must:

Be Comprehensive: Multimethodological, applicable across all customer-facing divisions

Cultivate Knowledge: Analytics, primary research, AI, foresight, social and other organizational knowledge about the broader business environment

Activate Insight: Influence decision making

Insight leaders talk about the role of their division as ownership of the centralized function that connects and makes intelligence accessible across the business, supporting and retransmitting it through clear structure and processes that intentionally delegate the burden of generating and sharing intelligence. Centralization creates a consistent view of the customers, accessibility breaks silos and structure provides granularity in service of strategic focus.

To be entrusted with this role, the insight function needs to be a respected relationship builder that can help the rest of the business feel ownership of that ‘Intelligence Capital’ and ensure engagement with it.

This requires a broader set of skills that links customer with competition, industry and product/service to help teams navigate new ways of unlocking and activating insights.

Where we’ve had success is creating internal competition to drive engagement and change in the business. One wrong decision is not going to topple a company— and let’s not forget that companies make bad decisions with good data, too. Sharing data only makes the world smarter.  

Michelle Gansle, Senior Director, Foresight, Innovation & Growth Insights, MARS

Practical tips for building an infrastructure for customer data that empowers both your business and consumers.

Skills and Team:

  • Teams need to have a broad range of business-relevant skillsets so they can integrate with and complement different verticals across the business. In data-led sectors like Tech, insight teams tend to over-index on qual to complement the innate data literacy of the business with the consumer motivations provided by qualitative research.
  • Insight teams are recruiting and training for T-shaped professionals: Individuals with a common level of basic literacy across research skillsets, specialized in certain areas or methodologies, adapted to the industry in which they operate.
  • More than before, team members need a collaborative mindset that prioritizes flexibility for the group journey rather than the individual (perfectionist) output. While this isn’t new, there’s a continued need for soft skills like these.
  • Matching team members with business units, as a business partner or otherwise, is the most effective way to build commercial skillsets and business acumen.

Tech and Tools:

  • Stakeholder behavior today mirrors the trends we see in society: Short and targeted video content cuts through. Customer “video libraries” and knowledge management platforms can reduce the burden significantly and make it seamless to share more engaging insight.
  • Develop dashboards that allow your stakeholders to look at what is happening (clicks, drop off at certain touchpoints, sales, etc.), but also dig into text analytics and descriptive data of those data points.
  • Identify the right use for the right tech. Tools like Zoom or Microsoft Teams make connections possible, but they don’t replace a whiteboard. Programs like Mural or Miro make live collaboration possible, but they don’t replace a moderator.

External Partners:

  • Look for external partners with a variety of specialized skillsets. They can help facilitate new conversations with internal teams, and they can help upskill your team. If they’re truly partners, agencies will be willing and able to coach your teams and help develop their skills.
  • Get more involved in recruitment: High performing teams collaborate closely with recruitment partners, communicating their vision for the team and co-creating job descriptions that attract the type of talent they pursue.
  • Collaborate with internal stakeholders and agency partners to develop insight stories that are built in collaboration with teams, rather than by insights alone.

Looking for a team of experts who are with you at every step, offering customer-driven innovations that drive impact?

We’re helping our clients understand, manage and grow the relationships that matter most. See our case studies.


Transforming McDonald’s innovative brand strategy with their next generation of consumers


Building the world’s largest dedicated Spanish-language streaming service through customer insights

Global Hotel Alliance

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Reassessing Monster’s customer segments to help them emerge as a major player in the job search space