By Edward Appleton
Are Business Intelligence and Analytics Outshining Insights?
It’s a question that has been going through my mind for a while. The apparent insights-shift over the past few years to the “harder” behavioural area of shopper data, sales data, web data seems to be redefining what Insights Management is fundamentally about. Are Shopper/ BI/ Analytics taking centre stage?
If yes, the rationale is simple: the “harder” sales/share/forecasting disciplines – Analytics in the broadest sense – deliver operationally impactful findings, immediately and measurably useful to sales strategy and execution.
Consumer insights can – in contrast – appear fluffier, longer-term, with nice-to-have data-points.
But is “Analytics” where the core of Insights really belongs – at the coal-face of operational excellence? Isn’t the transformational power that insights can unleash better positioned at Board Level, where strategy decisions are made?
Without wishing to sound overly idealistic or naive, I’d argue that we’re witnessing Insights being repositioned, with potentially wide ranging consequences. Here’s my take.
1. Measurement replaces Imagination and Foresight
The ROI of shopper data is easily measured – relatively straightforward data mining can easily highlight areas of under- or over performance, and then a drill-down to pack sizes, flavours, whatever leads to operational actionability.
The same is true in a different way for web analytics – clicks are clicks, but more on in that in a second.
Shopper insights improves efficiency – with sales management a strong internal customer.
The downside is that insights easily becomes a reactive force – sales calls, Insights jumps – with capacity used by tactical analyses, and little time or remit to think more broadly or pro-actively.
It’s a challenge – and within a world characterised by downward pressure on budgets, it’s one I don’t see changing fast.
2. Web Analytics – Marketing or Insights Tool?
How often have you sat through a presentation where web analytics are presented as hugely, immensely successful – millions of hits here, massive growth there, best-ever there. Sometimes presented by the Agency responsible for web execution.
It’s often euphoric stuff – and welcomed by a marketing mindset looking for success stories. It can be mistaken for, or presented as, solid evidence.
Challenging this narrative for competitive web benchmarks, checking to see if different KPIs have shifted at the same time as a given web campaign – this call is the remit of the Insights department, which has no interest in a success-biased outcome.
Speaking up here is partly a skill-sets issue, requiring a certain confidence in the language of the web, an understanding of web measurement tools. It’s a challenge the Insights function, digitally-native or otherwise, needs to rise to.
3. Trends, Culture and Innovation Research are as Important as Analytics
Some areas critical to established or strongly growing brands are not captured by traditional KPIs or analytics, predictive or otherwise. They are “softer”, before-the-curve stuff.
Examples: the trend-setting groups, reacting first to an emerging Zeitgeist; successful start-ups that only have local distribution but are a hit in their area. The new business payment model that is spreading wildly in a different geography. On the radar screen?
These sort of activities are easily-sacrificable in budget-reduction phases as not business-critical. Understandable in a sense – but there are clear dangers in present-focus bias in times where businesses both crumble and grow faster than ever before in history.
Securing budgets for foresights activities can be best addressed by sensitising key stakeholders to the value with a mix of arguments – competitive examples, case studies, hypothesis building, anecdotal evidence.
So back to my original question – yes, I do think that BI, shopper insights and web analytics are in line to outshine Consumer Insights. It’s understandable in a world of ROI, measurement, operational excellence.
I’d counter-argue that a balanced Insights angle needs to be at least as forward thinking as it is operationally effective. The Consumer Insights function needs to value hypothesis-driven thinking, accepting the more qualitative as admissible evidence, the forward-thinking as valid, trend monitoring as powerful.
The rationale is simple: to ensure that a business can spotlight and react to potentially interesting or disruptive patterns before they become a stronger force.
If Insights departments become machines narrowly servicing operational efficiency, sooner or later the function will be repositioned in the value chain.
Curious, as ever, as to others’ views.