Impact of insights: Are we finally confident in the strength of the marketing research industry? 

Editor’s note: Adam Rowles is a director at The Forge, located in London. He attended The Quirk’s Event - London May 3-4, 2023. 

So what did I learn at The Quirk’s Event – London? Whisper it … we might finally be creating the impact we’ve been talking about for so long.

Reflecting on two days of listening to talks, receiving product demos and having conversations with clients and agencies, I left Quirk’s London this year with one overriding thought in my head; there is a growing sense of confidence in our industry about the impact that we are creating.

In the insight industry, we’ve been talking about impact for years. It’s in every case study, thought piece and creds deck. We name our conferences after it and hand out awards in its name. We even have an Impact magazine. 

But we don’t talk about it from a position of strength. It comes across as a weakness. More than any other industry I can think of, we have become fixated on demonstrating to others that we create value. As if it were necessary to justify the need for speaking to consumers and customers. 

And perhaps it’s no surprise; for the last 10 years or so we’ve been at the forefront of the explosion of data, which for our industry has meant tremendous change. As more data has become available to us, stakeholder’s expectations have grown, the lines between what we could do and what we should do have blurred and timelines and attention spans have shortened.

For the last decade, it has felt like insight has been on the back foot as it transformed itself to make the most of the new opportunities, whilst simultaneously continuing to deliver value to its stakeholders. When you consider these factors, it’s no wonder we are so fixated on impact.

But I sense we might be at a turning point. 

During COVID-19, insight became mission critical. We had a vital role to play. We took on the role of explaining to our organizations what was going on. We told stories of hope, we were diligent, we pioneered new ways of connecting with people, we collaborated and we experimented.

We had a seat at the table and the ear of the C-suite. We were called upon to steer and influence business decisions, in real time, to navigate through the crisis. It brought out the very best of us. 

And I get the sense that it has continued post-pandemic. At The Forge, we have been helping insight clients lead their organizations through the ‘follow-up’ crises of the Ukraine war and the cost-of-living crisis and have written a whitepaper about it here (registration required). 

5 takeaways from the Quirk’s Event - London sessions 

At Quirk’s London, it seemed like the urgency of these situations has given us a renewed sense of purpose and confidence that is visibly bubbling to the surface. There is a shift in momentum driven by new ideas, ambition and direction.

We are bringing new skills into insight teams

At the event, we heard from Hazel Nicolson, who was drafted in from a previous role in category management to head the insight function at CCEP. Hazel came to the insight role without a previous career in insight. However, her previous experience as an end user of insight gave her a unique perspective on how to shape the function to create maximum value – and has since set about doing it. 

We are reimagining the role of the insight function

Ross Dempsey (again drawing on previous skills – this time in communications) holds a unique role at Burberry as editor of the Burberry Insight Hub, an acknowledgement that insight needs to attract the attention of the organization if it is to engage, inspire and affect change. 

We are using AI to get more value from what we already know

One of the great challenges of all insight functions is getting continued value from previous insight investments. In his session, Richard Bowman shared how clients are training sophisticated private chatbots on their existing proprietary data so that employees can ask questions of the organization’s knowledge bank.  

We are using AI to free up our time for value-add activities

In another session, Richard Bowman also showed us how ChatGPT can be deployed as a virtual intern, rapidly accelerating slower, more labour-intensive tasks like naming, sense-checking, trawls, etc. It is early days with ChatGPT and nobody really knows where it will take us. But it seems like the sky is the limit.

We are using AI to increase the effectiveness of our work

Riikka Tommila, Sophia Khayati and Dani Kamras shared how AI has enabled them to analyze more factors that contribute to the success or failure of a new innovation launch, improving organizational confidence around new investments.

Moving ahead with new and old ideas

Some of these are not new ideas, others are so new we have no idea where they will end up. But it is great to see such a renewed sense of purpose and confidence around the value we are delivering for stakeholders. 

There will no doubt be future challenges to face, but let’s relish the impact we’re going to create – rather than worrying whether we’ll create it or not.