Managing stakeholders to drive insights transformation

Ryan Barry, President

As you look to the future of your insights team, you’re likely facing the need to change. You’re being asked to move faster, do more with less, maybe even incorporate AI. That requires new tools and, more importantly, new ways of working across your business. 

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: In the future, the role of insights teams isn’t to own the consumer, it’s to enable consumer centricity across the whole organization. To succeed in that future, many organizations will need to transform their insights team. 

But wide-scale organizational change takes time. If you’re at the early stages, it can seem like an overwhelming process. I’ve spoken with many insights leaders who are at different stages of their insights transformation and many of those conversations are available for you to learn from on my podcast, Inside Insights. But I’ve pulled out a few key learnings here.

Inside Insights 🎙️

Join host Ryan Barry as he gets inside the world of consumer insights by chatting with global brand leaders who share their personal journeys and give you actionable tips to get into the minds of your consumers.

1. Do your research

You are putting yourself at a huge disadvantage if you don’t fully understand the needs of your stakeholders. This point has come up again and again in my conversations with insights leaders. 

If you begin by rolling out new technology or new processes — without fully understanding what people need to do their jobs — you’re very unlikely to get to something that works for your business. But when you start with their needs, you can think more strategically about how to transform. 

It's always about thinking from the business, back. It's not about thinking about the methodology or the tool. It truly is about thinking about what you are going to do with that data? How is it going to impact the business? How is it going to drive the decision?

Stefania Gvillo, SVP, Chief Analytics and Insights Officer at Domino's

Learning all you can about your stakeholders early in the process is important because 1) you can be sure the future state you build meets their needs and 2) they’ll feel more invested in the process because they know they were consulted upfront. 

You need to talk to people and need to understand their needs because only when they feel that they're heard can you help them and build that trust.

Christian Niederauer, Global Head of Insights at Colgate-Palmolive

It may be tempting to get started as soon as possible, but start by taking the time to listen. How do the different markets and business units run research? How do the marketing teams use that data? 

Get to the underlying needs, not just what the current state looks like — because you’re working to the future. You don’t just want to slightly improve on the existing world, you need to completely transform many of the existing ways of working. But you can’t make things better if you don’t fully understand the current state inside and out.

It’s always a good idea to play back what you’ve heard — even at a later date when you’ve had time to hear from a lot of stakeholders. Lucy Lindsley from Reckitt swears by this approach and often finds that she hears things a little differently the second time around.

What I found is if you do that next check-in step, you get people's feedback again, perhaps they hear it a bit differently when you play it back to them — the needs that you first heard. Then you get to that extra level of understanding about what it is they really need or what they've been doing. Give yourself time to do that so that you really optimize the proposition before you take it out to the rest of the organization.

Lucy Lindsley, Global Insight Lead at Reckitt

For something as important as organizational change, it’s worth it to take all the time you need at the start so you don’t find you’ve wasted your time at the end.

2. Build your vision

When it comes to selling anything, internally or externally, you need an inspirational vision. People need to know what the future will look like so they can be inspired to bring about that future with you. 

First you've got to build the vision and help people see what the change can look like. 

Tony Costella, Global Consumer and Market Insights Director at Heineken

But how do you lay out your vision in a way that will resonate? I like the way Natalia Lumpkin from Frito Lay thinks about selling her transformation of insights to her organization: She views her insights team as a brand and thinks about interacting with the rest of her organization in terms of brand management strategies. 

I decided that my insight team is going to be like a brand. I'm going to manage it like a brand. And what do you do when you manage a brand? You want to make sure that the consumer knows about you, that the consumer will value you, that you're going to be relevant, that you're going to have the benefit that everybody will want, and you're going to deliver it in a way that is distinctive enough that it's going to stick, right? When you start reframing it like that, all of a sudden you have access to different strategies.

Natalia Lumpkin, Marketing VP for Consumer Insights at Frito Lay

And when you manage your transformation like a brand, you’ve got to effectively position it so your consumer (the end users of your insights) immediately sees the value this change brings. One great framework to take a look at is April Dunford’s positioning framework, in which she suggests defining these five areas:

  • Competitive alternatives: If you didn’t exist, what would customers use? 

  • Key unique attributes: What features/capabilities do you have that alternatives do not? 

  • Value: What value do the attributes enable for customers? 

  • Customers that care: Who cares a lot about that value? 

  • Market you win: What context makes the value obvious to your target customers? 

Thinking in this way can help you nail your message, because it helps you look at the situation from all angles. Start with the competitive alternatives (what the situation looks like today), so you make sure you’re positioning your proposed transformation as more appealing. Then outline your key attributes and the value those attributes bring to your end users. Align those attributes to the audiences that care about them and the context in which this value is obvious to them. 

Once you have all that defined, you can more easily spot the messages you need to deliver to different groups.

3. Look for small wins

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your transformation won’t be either. 

Nearly every insights leader I’ve spoken to has recommended looking for small wins wherever possible. When you can get a small win in one area, you can use it to sell the change everywhere else. And when you can get one person to see the vision firsthand, they can help you sell it to others. 

This is important because you may experience some push back through this process. People will talk about budget issues, they'll talk about time restraints, they'll talk about capability, etc. — all of which are definite and very real barriers. But according to Tony Costella, Global Consumer and Market Insights Director at Heineken, the biggest barrier of all that needs to be addressed is fear.

It may be a fear of change, but most of the time it’s also a fear of becoming less valuable. Those directly affected by the changes you're trying to put in place may think: “Well, I know how to do my job and I do it very well. If I start outsourcing or automating the work my business partners really appreciate me for doing, or if I mark some of my responsibilities as lower priority, then I’ll become less valuable.”

The biggest barrier of all is fear.

Tony Costella, Global Consumer and Market Insights Director at Heineken

How do you make it easy for people to make that first leap? How do you get them to trust you? You have to get buy-in from a handful of brave peers who are willing to take the first leap with you and make them advocates. 

Natalia Lumpkin uses a sports metaphor about starting small to help you get “points on the board.” 

You don't have to deliver the entire business and change everything all at once. Find players who are actually going to play the game, who will give you a little bit of air, right? And these are the places where you can prove your points and put some, as my boss calls it, "points on the board." Use that to tell them a story. This is how we work together. This is how we engage together. It's really about the ways of working, not just what was delivered. And then obviously the best case is when you have some results to show. And then you have the business partner to really sell that for you.

Natalia Lumpkin, Marketing VP for Consumer Insights at Frito Lay

Matt Cahill, Senior Director, Consumer Insights Activation at McDonald's, has a great approach when he introduces a new process to his business. He doesn’t say he’s replacing the old way. He just introduces a new way of doing things. And if the new way is truly better, people will start to see that on their own. He calls it a “sleight of hand” trick. It’s another good example of how to start on a smaller scale.

To fully transform the way your organization runs research and generates insights, you need a lot of buy-in and a lot of change from many people. Small wins help you build your case to show people that this is the right direction. 

4. Roll it out, learn and iterate

Once you have your early wins and champions, you can roll your transformation out to the rest of your organization. Exactly how that looks will vary by organization, so we can’t tell you exactly how to do it. But we can look at examples for inspiration.

When it comes to training marketers to do their own simple research tasks, global alcohol brand Pernod Ricard took it slow by rolling out a single use case at a time, starting with the ability to test final creative assets. Each marketer was trained on the overall vision and how to use the ad testing solution. Before marketers were allowed to test on their own, they had to run three tests with someone from the insights team so they could get guided practice setting up the test and interpreting the results. Once both insights and marketing felt comfortable with the process, they started rolling out more use cases following the same process.  

A global CPG brand’s approach was slightly different. The company held marketing boot camps in ten countries over a period of six months to socialize the new tools. In each bootcamp, the team ran a creative ideas session and then sent participants away to use the tools overnight. When they reconvened the next day, they shared their findings and talked about how they would make decisions from the data. After the boot camp, the marketers were allowed to test on their own.

No matter how you go about it, there will certainly be a lot of sharing and reinforcing the vision, training people on new systems and processes, and following up to learn and iterate. Transformation is not a one-time change. As you learn more about what works, you will refine your vision and go through multiple stages of your transformation again and again. 

The benefits extend much broader and much deeper than I envisioned four and a half years ago. We are now, not at the end of the journey, but four years into it.

Stephan Gans, SVP, Chief Insights and Analytics Officer at PepsiCo

Pernod Ricard proves it’s possible to democratize insights

Get a behind-the-scenes look at how Pernod Ricard empowered marketing users to run their own creative research, freeing up the insights team to do more strategic work.

Final thoughts

Any kind of change in an enterprise organization is a massive undertaking. It can certainly be a long journey, but it’s an important one to take to avoid leaving your insights team stuck in the past. 

Make sure you’ve taken the time upfront to fully understand the needs of all the stakeholders. Build a vision and a message that’s going to resonate with each of these stakeholders. Look for small wins to get points on the board and establish your champions. And then roll it out, learn and iterate as you go. 

If you’re interested in staying on top of insights trends and future-focused insights leaders, subscribe to my podcast Inside Insights.

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