How to define and drive competitive advantage

How to define and drive competitive advantage
Competitive advantage - Market Leader

The role played by customer insight professionals should determine their position in the organisational structure. Melanie Howard provides an interesting starting point for thinking about the positioning of customer insight teams within organisations (see Market Leader, Q2 2011, p34). But as we reflect upon potential restructuring solutions there are some issues that spring to mind. Before we settle on a ‘think tank’ model, or see the ‘chief insight officer’ as the marketing director’s insight consigliere, we must ask ourselves: what outputs and impact are we trying to achieve? When we talk about an insight team, do we mean a team that provides meaningful insight, or is this just a fashionable term for providers of data and information? These are not the same thing but, importantly, they are both perfectly valid roles.

Defining Terms

What struck us in Howard’s feature was that 60% of organisations in the Future Foundation’s study reported distributing ‘insight’ at least once a week: 25% claimed to do this every day. Like ‘perpetual motion’ this sounds too good to be true. It suggests that some organisations are conflating insight with data.

An insight is a discovery about consumers, or the market, that drives competitive advantage, and generates value. Insights are rare and precious. Until we unravel this confusion, debating how, and where, to position the insight team is running before we can walk.

When considering what we want from our insight team and where it is best positioned, it is worth asking what you From David Smith and Adam riley insight want from your team. What kind of behaviour will best support you as a marketer? To help think about this, below are four fundamental roles that can be played by customer insight professionals.

The fact finders: unearth ‘killer stats’ – a critical stepping-stone to insight that could create value. Fact finders provide useful data and may even go further and deliver ‘information’: data that is structured and organised in patterns or frameworks. But making the connections between these ‘patterns’ and their business significance is left to someone else.

The wide-angled business lens: work with multiple information sources – often of varying robustness. They join up the dots to see the ‘big picture’ and interpret the business implications of past patterns and shapes. Having this ‘wide-angled business lens’ adds context to information and shows why it is relevant to the business and identifies the implications of the information. It’s about the what, how and why. This ‘wide-angled lens’ skill helps the business make informed evidence-based decisions by reducing risk (pushing up the probability of making the right decision).

The insight strategist: insight professionals with the skill set to go beyond filtering information through the ‘wide-angled business lens’. They contribute to the strategic conversation that is the catalyst to creating insights. Insights do not drift down from the muse. The ‘aha’ moment is the product of a powerful combination of ‘data-rich thinking’ and ‘strategic dialogue’.

Only by understanding the organisation’s strategic direction and capabilities are you able to identify if you have an insight from which the organisation can make money. So, insight professionals who can be the ‘voice of the consumer’ and strategically engage with stakeholders to frame the organisation’s choices offer powerful support to decision-makers.

The most ambitious organisations, however, may go one step further by encouraging their insight professionals to be the driving force in galvanising the organisation to constantly do things differently.

The insight intrapreneur. This person is goal oriented, problem centric, improvisational, entrepreneurial and courageous. Creative companies are oriented toward exploration and discovery so the insight intra-preneur helps them challenge the status quo.

They move beyond framing choices within the current horizons of the organisation to offer insight that may challenge this fundamental direction. The insight intrapreneur is a ‘change agent’ who is comfortable bringing new ideas forward and promoting their execution. They know how to help the organisation channel its resources to deliver more successful outcomes.

So, where should we position the customer insight teams within the organisation? You should let the role you want it to play drive this decision. Insight professionals who have the skill set to power their organisation’s growth should be closer to the throne than those who tinker at the edge of value creation. Those who can contribute to the ‘strategic conversation’ may operate more effectively in the ‘think tank’ model.

Insight professionals who can step up to be an insight intra-preneur will add the most value by having high-level access to the marketing director and board

David Smith, director, DVL Smith, [email protected] Adam Riley, director, DGL Consulting, [email protected]