Back to the Future with Sarah Ryan (The Arnott’s Group)

In this pandemic reality, research and insights professionals are challenged to rethink their long-standing practices and approaches. Are pre-corona insights still relevant today? What’s the impact of COVID-19 on how we organize consumer research? What’s the role of DIY research activities? Is there an increasing need for foresights versus insights?

To answer these and other questions, we connected with client-side researchers during our ‘Back to the Future’ interview series. In this interview, Erica van Lieven, Managing Partner at InSites Consulting Australia discussed consumer centricity, research agility and the role of DIY with Sarah Ryan, Integrated Insights Director at The Arnott’s Group.

#1 We’ve never been as consumer-centric as we are now

Q: We all became much more consumer-centric when countries locked down due to COVID-19 – will we keep this up post-lockdown, and how?

“During these challenging times, being close to our consumers and making consumer-informed decisions is indeed key. As an insights team, during the pandemic, we provided a weekly summary of key insights and critical actions to our commercial and leadership teams. To compare, usually our reporting would be monthly and quarterly. As a result, our consumers were more top-of-mind than ever before and activated the entire business. I think this level of being close to the consumer and the business is going to stay, because we all know that COVID is not over yet, and we have a recession looming. I’m convinced it’s a new habit for our team to speed up the frequency of doing research and reporting in periods of accelerated change.

We also saw a slight shift in the role of our insights function, from previously informing the commercial team to defining agile actions together with the business and marketers. In doing so, we noticed the importance of immersing marketers and other key functions in the world of the consumer. Bringing the insights to life builds additional consumer empathy, and ensured the consumer was more top-of-mind across the business when making decisions on the fly.

#2 Research agility is key

Q: Did you embrace more agile research approaches to tap into the changing dynamics and act upon them?

“During COVID, consumer mindsets and behaviour were evolving at lightning speed, so we needed to have the right insights at the right time to make the right decisions. Working with partners that introduce new, agile methodologies is the key to success for us, and we used these pandemic times to experiment with such novel approaches.

Think for example about crowdsourcing of ideas. We have always believed it’s something that we can do ourselves and did so successfully. But during COVID, especially at the start when we weren’t acquainted with using collaborative online technologies, face-to-face ideation was hard. We also noticed that some ideation sessions didn’t deliver what we wanted, especially on some of the tougher briefs. eÿeka as a creative crowdsourcing methodology helped us to get this right and opened our eyes to the potential of crowdsourcing. Creative consumers bring fresh thinking to our innovation pipeline and even crack some of the briefs that we weren’t able to.

Another agile methodology that we’ve worked with is a consumer community panel. We have tested this community over the last three months and used it way more than anticipated. The insights and marketing team loved it, because it helped them to hear and feel the consumer in a real way. They hadn’t felt this before, without doing face-to-face consumer immersions. Response times were very fast, and on top of that, we could ask follow-up questions, creating a strong return on investment. This is ideal for the times we live in, where we’re really striving to deliver the return on investment for every dollar we spend.”

#3 The rise of DIY

Q: Will COVID-19 lead to more in-/ outsourcing of research tasks within my organization?

“The consideration of insourcing versus outsourcing, from my perspective, is very important. We feel that we should outsource for speed, or for those areas that we need to lean on the expertise of our partners, and to access the most innovative methods and the latest thinking. And we should insource those areas where we feel our team’s knowledge of the business context means we can add significant value. In the future, I see an opportunity for close partnerships with a smaller set of agency partners. It will create more efficiencies in terms of communication, but also in the quality and speed of advice, as our partners will understand the business better. As a consequence, the boundaries between outsourcing and insourcing might blur. So, these great agency partners will become an extension of our insights function, like the ad agency model that we see working so well in lots of instances.

In summary, COVID has increased the research and reporting frequency in organizations, bringing the consumer more top-of-mind during everyday decision taking. New research methodologies are vital in this push towards a consumer-centric mindset, even in a way that brands decide to closely collaborate with a small set of creative research partners, as an extension of the organization.”

Hungry for more? Stay tuned as we will release more ‘Back to the Future’ interviews in the coming weeks! Or get in touch to find out how we can guide you to get a grip on the changes impacting categories, consumers and brands across the globe.

Back to the Future interview series

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Tom De Ruyck
Thoughtleader Future of Research
Managing Partner

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