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Consumer Insight: The Elephant Not in the Room

By Jennifer Polk | January 19, 2021 | 0 Comments

Marketingdigital marketingMarketing Leadership and Strategy

Consumers are a key audience for every business, across sectors and revenue models. Why? They are your buyers, suppliers and employees. Therefore, every decision your company makes starts and ends with consumer insight.  Every IT investment ultimately requires human approval and adoption. Supply chain decisions are about delivering to human beings. Manufacturing focuses on producing goods that humans will use. Consumer insight represents human insight. As long as you sell to and through human beings, you need consumer insight.

Consumer voice is often missing from the room where decisions are being made
Photo by Dane Deaner on Unsplash

Who owns Consumer Insight?

Marketing is most often in a unique position to tap into this insight, but often misses or fails to focus on the value of collecting and using consumer insight to solve business problems. This failure is largely driven by a demand to invest in a lot of different types of data, analytics and insights serving a variety of purposes. But, if the entire organization could see the criticality of looking at decision making, first, through the lens of the human beings affected by those decisions, the value of and funding for consumer insight would be indisputable.

CMO have a rare chance to insert consumer insight into executive-level discussions and decision making. Are you, as a CMO, taking advantage of this opportunity? 

What does Consumer Insight Have to with Your Business?

Too often, each function focuses on a distinct definition of operational success. There is, of course, a hope that these success metrics all connect to a common organizational outcome, like profitability. If IT and HR optimize for efficiency and productivity, that will, logically, lead to improved profitability. As long as Sales and Manufacturing focus on topline growth and cost management, we’ll achieve greater profitability. But, the missing piece–the elephant not in the room–is the understanding of consumers. This doesn’t only apply to consumers of what the company sells.  This also applies to the human beings expected to execute these strategies. If COVID-19 has taught us nothing as leaders, it has shown the interconnectedness of business decisions with the lives of human beings.

Even if IT chooses the ideal system, if the CIO or IT leaders fail to appreciate the change management needs of their teams, the system fails for low adoption. If HR selects the best process and policy for managing employee behavior but fails to understand these employees day-to-day lives, people managers will face resistance from their teams. If Sales designs winning collateral and training but doesn’t also appreciate barriers to interpersonal relationships, sellers will struggle. Manufacturing can embrace leading project management practices, but a lack of understanding of the human beings implementing those practices renders them ineffective.

Why aren’t other functions embracing this understanding?

There can be a lot of reasons other functional leaders don’t embrace consumer insights, such as:

  • Company history of undervaluing or underinvesting in these types of insights
  • Lack of exposure  to consumer insight or understanding of its impact among leaders
  • Leaders’ past experience with consumer insight being misused (e.g., confirmation bias)

Consumer insight isn’t a replacement for insight about your company’s customers or employees. But, in the absence of customer or employee surveys or studies, understanding broadly what consumers think, feel or how they behave can save the organization from going down the wrong path.

For example, the incoming U.S. presidential administration is increasing hope for broad vaccination against COVID-19. Questions are also arising about mandating employee vaccinations. HR, Legal and Risk Management executives will lead the organization in making this decision.  However, they would do well to understand employee sentiment toward vaccination before implementing a vaccination program, much less mandating vaccinations.

Hopefully, companies making these types of decisions that affect not only business operations but also their employer brand, would invest the time and budget in an employee survey. They should also start by using consumer insight to understand, broadly, how people feel about the COVID-19 vaccine. This could be used for survey development and to identify concerns that could be addressed through communication, certainly ahead of a mandate.

What’s at stake if we ignore consumer understanding?

The previous example is just one scenario where consumer insight can guide strategic and operational business decisions outside of marketing. There are countless other examples of situations where decision making, in the absence of consumer insight, renders a company-centric decision that fails to meet the needs of customers, employees or other stakeholders.

As we (hopefully) embark on an era where all stakeholders,  not just shareholders, matter and drive accountability, CMO should look for opportunities to:

  • Continually invest in consumer insight
  • Bring consumer insight into c-level discussions
  • Encourage teams and peers to use it to inform decision making

Consumers, including your customers, employees and individuals making decisions on behalf of your company and your partners’, are reeling. 2020 was a year like none other. Now, more than ever, its critical for CMO to lead their organizations in valuing consumer insights and tapping into qualitative and quantitative sources of insight to increase empathy and improve relevance and effectiveness. This doesn’t just apply to messaging. More importantly, it applies to the actions taken by the c-level and other leaders of the organization.

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

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