At our recent (June 7, 2016) client symposium in NYC for a morning of learning and discussion, we asked Cambiar to present the results of a recent study they did with BCG. The first wave of that study was completed in 2009 and explored the impact and management of insights in major corporations. The current study was completed in 2015 and repeated the 2009 study to evaluate how and whether the insights function is changing in that audience.

In 2009, Cambiar/BCG found that 90% of major corporations were not adequately leveraging their consumer insights/marketing research functions. And in 2015, Cambiar/BCG study found only about 20% of research departments would describe themselves as being “strategic insight partners” or even better, “a source of competitive advantage” for their company. Additionally, Cambiar/BCG found that among corporations where the Consumer Insight (CI) function is working at the higher, more strategic levels, those groups were much more likely to have a Champion in the C-Suite, usually the CMO.

At our Symposium of 19 senior and mid-level researchers, we found a different story: nearly all of our client attendees felt they and their departments were operating at higher, more strategic levels and contributing to competitive advantage for their companies. Our attendees agreed with Cambiar/BCG’s findings: most attributed their success first and foremost to having a champion in the C-Suite – most often the CMO.

So we asked, “How do you get and retain such a champion?” Answers included:

  • Deliver insights “upstream” in a manner that better fits with C-Suite’s needs. Short, “snack-sized” insights delivered in an innovative (read: non-PPT) way, such as via video or podcast. One attendee told us he spent two hours creating a two-minute video and 1,000 people in the organization viewed it (obviously, this is a very large company!).
  • Provide regular “state of the consumer” type information via newsletter or another medium; again keeping the C-Suite audience in mind.
  • Know when to apply research and when to use business judgment to make a decision; CI departments will gain respect if they “admit” that smart and savvy leadership can make some decision better than primary market research. Related to this, the Cambiar/BCG study reported about half of business decisions are supported by market research and the most widely researched decisions are those related to Brand Positioning.

CI Champion and Budgets

Having a C-Suite champion can also help Insights with another perennial challenge: budgets. According to the Cambiar/BCG study, almost two-thirds of the CI budget is not controlled by the CI department. Many in the group were surprised by this finding, but one participant, whose budget is completely controlled by her business partners, felt this was a positive, as she found her business partners to be more engaged with the CI process since it was “their money,” leading to better outcomes. She did admit that a potentially negative aspect of client budget control is that the business partner may choose not to do the research they should in an effort to allocate the budget to other initiatives or to save money.

Our participants identified another potential negative of CI not controlling their budget: it limits experimentation and innovation. Regardless of who controls CI budget, most attendees agreed that the time they spend on long-term, strategic research was limited due to lack of immediate, bottom-line impact on the business. As one attendee said, “The effectiveness of what we do is almost completely judged by the business’s ability to take action on the insights we provide.”

Not surprisingly, we found that those departments with a C-Suite champion felt they’re better able to maneuver through the omnipresent competing priorities. Cambiar/BCG’s study found that companies want their CI teams to leverage data and research to understand trends in the market and deliver insights that are both proactive and focused, while driving business results. Perhaps this quote from one of our participants sums it up best:

“Even with limited human and capital resources, our goal is to be a
scrappy insights department, not a crappy insights department.”