Marketing is Morphing. Insight Departments Must Evolve Too

strategic insight

“Why more brands are ditching the CMO position” was the headline of a recent Ad Age article. It reports: “Several big-name companies have recently done away with the CMO position altogether—including Johnson & Johnson, Uber, Lyft, Beam Suntory, Taco Bell and Hyatt Hotels, accelerating a trend that began a few years ago.”

The force behind this trend has important implications for the insights industry too.

These leading companies are moving away from having a Chief Marketing Officer in an effort to have a more interconnected relationship with the consumer. To do this, they are consolidating marketing duties within a broader mandate.

In the past, the CMO role lacked “accountability for the performance of the brands,” Beam Suntory CEO Albert Baladi told Ad Age. Titles like “Chief Growth Officer”, “Chief Experience Officer” and “Chief Commercial Officer” reflect a desire to understand customers more holistically, and task the executive with greater accountability for profitability.

Coca-Cola did away with the global CMO role in 2017. They created the role of Chief Growth Officer with responsibility for corporate strategy, retail relationships and marketing. Bringing these functions together helped Coke ensure “building brands was not only creating strong preference and equity but also translating that equity into revenue and margin growth,” Coca Cola CGO Francisco Crespo told Ad Age.

Market research evolves towards corporate insights

This trend toward accountability and a holistic approach to customers is happening within insights departments too. The most forward-thinking ones shifted away from being traditional market research providers to business contributors, then strategic insights partners, and finally, sources of competitive advantage. The Global Business Research Network (GRBN), in conjunction with the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), has done some brilliant work on this in their report, ROI of Insights.

They outline four stages of insight department maturity based on the level of integration into the business, as well as influence and focus. In their model, as insights departments mature, they become increasingly strategic, take a leadership role and prove the return on investment in their efforts.

strategic insight 

From the GRBN report ROI of Insights

Insights is transitioning from reacting to leading

The world of insights is relatively young. The first market research groups started popping up in the marketing departments of media companies and ad agencies about 100 years ago. Their primary purpose was to fuel ad sales by providing information on reader’s buying habits. This fed a thirst for consumer data and proved the value of survey research. But it was very much a service function, doing what was requested by the marketing department.

Times have changed and many research departments have evolved with it. The GRBN research suggests half of all research departments have taken on a more strategic role, but just a handful have become full-fledged strategic leaders. Virgin Australia and World Vision Canada are two such leaders, whose stories are featured in The Insights Revolution: Questioning Everything.

Virgin Australia, who was once an order-taking internal agency, now sets the agenda for the Customer Board, which includes the CEO and representatives from all functions in the business. World Vision morphed from being a well regarded, but relatively passive, partner to reorienting the organization to focus on the customer experience.

You can read more about these inspiring groups in The Transformative Effect of Leadership From the Insights Function.

A time of transformation for corporate insights

It’s not business as usual for either marketing or research these days. As companies seek to embrace the consumer more holistically, the insights function is perfectly poised to lead the charge by providing a proactive understanding of what consumers want, need and experience. Organizations like GRBN are there to help.

GRBN, in conjunction with BCG, developed a Insight Function Maturity Self-Assessment Tool to help insights departments understand where they are, and where they need to go. They have also developed the Invest in Insights Handbook. It provides insights teams with a framework for measuring their ROI and reporting on their own business impact.

The Handbook contains a how-to guide, ROI measurement examples and practical tricks and tips from practitioners. And they just announced that research has begun on developing version 2.0 of the handbook.

There is no end of opportunity for those who are ready to seize the day. To learn more about how the insights industry is being transformed read The Insights Revolution: Questioning Everything. Either contact us or buy a copy directly from Amazon.

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