At Unilever, CMI has taken on this role. (While these go by many names—including “I&A,” “consumer and market insights,” and “customer intelligence”—for simplicity we refer to them as insights functions here.). Once decisions have been made about where to play, another custom-built software tool, called Growth Cockpit, helps guide “How to win?” strategies. That’s because insights merely provide a means to the desired end: action that drives business growth. The new source of competitive advantage is customer centricity: deeply understanding your customers’ needs and fulfilling them better than anyone else. The firm’s 400-plus brands, which include Dove, Knorr, and Axe, generated $60 billion in revenue in 2015, propelling underlying sales growth of 4.1% for the year. At Unilever, CMI’s prominently communicated mission is “to inspire and provoke to enable transformational action.” Note that the word “insight” is missing—intentionally. The most successful companies don’t just have good products and strong distribution systems—they have a deep understanding of customers. Among its programs, HCF runs cultural awareness workshops and prompts brand and category teams to discuss how various macro forces might affect both consumers and Unilever. The result is that local firms, particularly in emerging markets, are growing fast and strengthening their competitive positions. A recent workshop, for example, brought together people from marketing, R&D, CMI, and other areas and asked them to brainstorm ways to boost hair-conditioner sales in Southeast Asia. Overview Traditionally the way to beat competition is to make superior products, lower price, leaner operational costs in manufacturing, distribution, sales and admin or even bad mouth the competition with negative advertising, especially now in Social Media. That left-brain orientation served them well, but today’s insights teams must think holistically, exercising creative, right-brain skills as well. Though overperformers currently aren’t far ahead of underperformers in this regard (32% versus 28%), the i2020 research suggests that the gap is widening, and we expect the trend to continue. Extensive research by the lead author’s firm indicates that seven operational characteristics are critical for a superior insights and analytics group: It must be adept at synthesizing data, independent from other functions, integrally involved in business planning, collaborative, willing to experiment with new technologies and programs, future oriented, and active in strategic decision making. As a result of these and other programs, teams now instinctively consider the business impact of their work and of every recommendation they make. CMI helped break the challenge into three parts—generating more product users, more usage, and more benefits for users—and then helped identify ways to attack those challenges. There visitors can browse by hair type and buy relevant Unilever products. Being held accountable for business results also provides an incentive for CMI to collaborate with all commercially oriented teams, since that is the best way to influence the key performance indicators for each team’s operations. The results could help Unilever prioritize growth opportunities and decide where it could most profitably invest additional marketing or product-development resources. The initial insight was that for behavioral change to stick, people had to use the products for at least three weeks. This proficiency in using data is evident in high-performing firms across industries, including pharmaceuticals, financial services, hospitality, and consumer packaged goods. To help determine this, CMI uses a bespoke software tool called Growth Scout, which mines millions of data points on consumer demand across demographics, regions, and countries to quantify the potential value of deeper category or brand penetration. The data sets are customarily owned by different teams—sales data by sales, media spending by marketing, customer interactions by customer service, and so on. Artwork: Marijah Bac Cam, Irradiation #2, digital on paper, A version of this article appeared in the. Further analysis revealed the 10 characteristics of superior insights engines detailed in this article. Frank van den Driest is the chief client officer and a founding partner at Kantar Vermeer, a brand and marketing strategy consultancy. 4. This led to the idea of launching an inexpensive trial-size packet. If you had leaner manufacturing, made higher-quality products, or had superior distribution, you could outrun competitors. In this article we describe the elements of the insights engine and show how it works at consumer goods giant Unilever. Using a custom tool to analyze hair-related Google searches (there are about a billion a month), the program identifies styling trends and rapidly creates how-to videos featuring (but not directly promoting) Unilever products on a YouTube channel called All Things Hair. In all cases, employees leave these workshops with new collaboration tools, and they become role models and evangelists for whole-brain thinking. CMI’s action orientation manifests itself in two broad ways: in its specific recommendations to other functions and in the recruitment and training of “action-oriented” employees. The idea is to help employees become better at turning insights into business results, whether by conceiving of a new business opportunity or by selling it within the organization. Anyone within Unilever can mine its 70,000 research documents for insights. The market research department typically was a reactive service unit reporting to the marketing function, fielding marketing requests, and producing performance management reports. Collaboration – not a service provider for other departments, but a voice of the market partner CMI can rapidly turn raw data from those sources into business impact. This helps ensure that when the strategy discussion turns to, say, expanding a personal-care brand into a new market, CMI and other functions are participating in conversations together and working as partners. Unilever’s Consumer Markets and Insights group, the epitome of a powerful insights engine, has helped the company generate impressive revenue and sales growth. Much of the Foundry’s work revolves around the “challenges” it posts on its site—requests for proposals to address a specific problem, such as consumers’ quandaries over what to cook for dinner or how to live a more sustainable lifestyle.