LONDON/AMSTERDAM: Observations are not insights, a distinction marketers need to grasp in a world where proactive, actionable insights are becoming the source of true competitive advantage.

In a WARC Best Practice paper, How to build an insight-led organisation, Frank van den Driest, chief commercial officer of marketing consultancy Kantar Vermeer, Meghna Jain, consultant at Kantar Vermeer, and Steven Berkhout, Associate Director at Kantar Vermeer and the Director of the Insights2020 program, contend that if adopting a consumer centric approach drives business growth, then a consumer centric strategy implies a business must be insight-led.

And, they observe, "once an insight becomes apparent (retrospectively self-evident), you can easily see how it is a layer deeper than the observation".

In a connected world, the insights function is increasingly driven by data – integrated data – and predictive analytics that can anticipate – and even influence – future consumer behaviour.

The authors noted that the quantity of data is less important than the ability to connect the dots and extract value from all the information – something that will require a rethink of how researchers operate.

"Today's insights teams must think holistically, exercising creative 'right-brain' skills, as well as traditional 'left-brain' analytical orientations," they say. "This requires recruiting whole-brain talent and encouraging this mind-set across the existing organisation."

Collaboration and experimentation are among the hallmarks of over-performing companies, they add, with insights leaders able to look beyond marketing and offer a perspective across all business projects. In Unilever, for example, the insights function is fully independent with direct lines to the CEO.

"There is a need to shift the focus from the accuracy and specificity of data to the actual actionability of the insight in the larger business context," the authors write. "Insights teams should focus as much on strategy as on data."

Accordingly, they will also need to consider organisation-wide business metrics rather than those related to their specific research brief. "Successful insights teams instinctively consider the business impact of their work across the organisation, and share accountability with leading business functions," he says.

Bringing it back to the marketing context, the Kantar Vermeer trio emphasise the necessity of a shift away from fact-filled presentations of findings towards insights being communicated via storytelling: "relatable stories … are more memorable and persuasive".

Data sourced from WARC