US Insights

Building an insights engine

Brands 11.18.2016 / 09:00


Brands need to convert data into insight about consumer motivations.

Consumers are more empowered and informed than ever. They expect transparency, demand accountability and challenge growth. In order to succeed, brands must achieve consumer-centricity — deeply understanding consumer needs and fulfilling them better than anyone else.

In order to accomplish this, brands need to convert data into insights about consumer motivations and transform those insights into a clear and concise strategy. This requires innovative organizational capabilities collectively called the “insights engine.”

The role of the insights engine was revealed in a global market-research study led last year by Kantar Vermeer. The study, called Insights2020 (I2020), involved interviews and surveys of more than 10,000 business executives worldwide. In the study, a firm’s insights engine was found to be the most important factor driving customer-centric growth.

Insights engines have 10 key characteristics which can be divided into two groups: operational characteristics – functional independence and experimental orientation; and people characteristics – business insight and well-balanced analytic and creative thinking styles. 

Operational Characteristics

Data synthesis

In the past, the scale of a firm's market research capabilities led to advantages in the marketplace. What matters today is not so much the quantity of data, but rather the value of the story ideated from the information. This capability differentiates successful organizations from less successful ones. According to the I2020 study, 67% of the executives at overperforming firms (those that outpaced competitors in revenue growth) said that their company was skilled at linking disparate data sources, whereas only 34% of the executives at underperformers made the same claim. 


The I2020 research shows that superior insights groups sit outside marketing and often report to someone in the C-suite. The study shows that insights leaders in overperforming organizations report to senior executives more than twice as often as their counterparts in underperforming organizations do (29% versus 12%), suggesting that having a direct line of communication with the CEO can improve efficiency of functional and organizational projects and strategy.

Integrated planning

The planning cycle is the driving force behind strategy development and execution for most companies. In this stage, resource allocation and budgeting are put into place and performance is monitored against goals. Insights groups must align their activities during the planning cycle with those of other functions such as marketing, finance and sales if they want to successfully drive strategy. Thus, insights leaders are included much more at all key stages of the planning cycle at overperforming firms verses underperforming ones (61% versus 46%).


According to the I2020 study, on average 69% of respondents from overperforming firms said they work closely with other functions and customers, compared with just 52% of those in underperforming companies. When insights groups collaborate with other functions, structural alignment creates natural channels for partnership and planning.


The I2020 research shows that overperforming companies are three times as likely as underperformers to embrace a culture of experimentation (40% versus 13%). B2B firms tend to be more experimental than B2C. 

Forward-looking orientation

Most firms have shifted attention to monitoring consumers in real time to anticipate what they’ll do next. Experts with insights engines however, take the next step. They use predictive analytics to not only anticipate, but influence behavior. Overperformers are only slightly ahead of underperformers in this model (32% versus 28%), but the research suggests that the gap is widening. 

Affinity for action

The I2020 study found that 79% of insights functions at overperforming companies participated in strategic decision making at all levels of the organization, compared with just 47% at underperforming companies. 

People Characteristics

Whole-brain mindset 

Members of insights organizations traditionally use a left-brain orientation focusing on analytics. Insights teams fare better when they use the creative, right-brain side as well. The I2020 study shows that far more respondents from overperformers than from underperformers agreed that their insights functions were skilled at whole-brain thinking (71% versus 42%).

Business focus

While right-brain thinkers have not always naturally focused on the business side, I2020 found that respondents from overperforming firms were much more likely than those from underperforming firms to believe their insights functions were business-focused (75% versus 50%). 


Good storytelling makes for a strong insights engine. At overperforming firms, 61% agreed that people in their insights functions were skilled at conveying messages through engaging narratives versus only 37% at underperforming firms.

The I2020 research shows that translating data into consumer-centric growth is the most critical driver to an insights engine's success. Leadership must trickle down from the top to ensure that every function understands what needs to be done to meet consumers’ fundamental needs. 

Source: Kantar Vermeer

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