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All about the last mile at the third annual Chicago Insights Executive Roundtable

All about the last mile at the third annual Chicago Insights Executive Roundtable
Thought Leadership

All about the last mile at the third annual Chicago Insights Executive Roundtable

I was pleased to kick off the third Chicago Insights Executive Roundtable by introducing VIP panellists Connie Zhang from Abbott, Martin Egger from Coca-Cola, and Brendan Baby from The Home Depot. I noted that since the first Chicago Roundtable in 2017, the insights management profession has changed dramatically, as thought leaders have fought to grow their business impact. The focus of our roundtable was to share some of the strategies that have contributed to their success.

If your organization struggles with the insights disconnect, you’re in good company. According to Mike Volanoski, our CRO, even his former employer SAP struggled to put the transaction data at their fingertips to good use. The abundance of information combined with the speed of business means that while 73% of businesses aspire to be data-driven, only 29% succeed at turning their data into action.

Overcoming the insights disconnect

Technology, in the form of an insights platform, can pave the way to the transformation of data into action. It’s what panellists from Abbott, Coca-Cola and Home Depot shared in Chicago.

At Abbott, said Connie Zhang, Senior Director Marketing Intelligence, they struggled with communication between divisions, despite common knowledge. Connie said Abbott launched their Market Logic platform, “Ignite,” to break down that barrier and promote knowledge sharing between teams.

Ignite was quickly embraced by Abbott’s nutrition division, and with careful guidance by the insights team, it was successfully launched in other divisions. “They all pitched in to make this happen,” said Connie. “Now the platform is being used by hundreds of marketers across the company, connecting everyone through a common hub.”

At Coca-Cola, decentralized units meant that research was often duplicated and time was spent chasing answers they already had. Martin Egger, Senior Director Strategy & Performance, explained how their platform, “S&I Connect,” launched in Europe in 2013 and has since expanded to Coke’s entire global operations.

His team held sessions where fast adopters shared their experiences with resistors, which helped drive change throughout the organization. Now, S&I Connect has over 1,000 users and in Martin’s words, “it’s our one-stop-shop now for everything – not just the research.”

Home Depot deployed their platform in 2015, aiming to “shift from the art of retail to the science of retail.” Before deployment, said Brendan Baby, Director Customer Strategy & Intelligence, there was a small insights department with a big backload.

Since deployment, their Market Logic platform – the “Insights Depot” – has become the central location for information at Home Depot. Brendan’s team is now free to conduct up to 150 easily distributable studies per year.

The why not just what

Many organizations embed insights disconnect from the outset by starting with the hype around insights investments – not the purpose. “Hey,” they think, “I’ve heard there’s this thing called big data, we should do that!” But for Brendan at Home Depot, it’s not simply about answering questions with data, it’s about training people to understand the why behind the question. Connie agreed, elaborating on what she calls “the last mile” of an insight – understanding the why behind the insight and acting on it. Abbott strives to complete the last mile as often as possible. For Martin, the disconnect is best resolved by closely aligning with your stakeholder to ensure that the project brief reflects a deep understanding of the business case for the task.

AI and insights management: keep the human element at heart

AI can play an important role in insights management, as Martin Egger can attest. As an early and successful adopter of Market Logic’s AI search experience, where algorithms uncover insights, from research, data and social media, his advice is: “don’t do AI just for the sake of it, or because everyone else is doing it…in the end there’s still a human being that needs to look at the output and make sense of it, and then make the final decision”.

Connie agreed, explaining that AI is an incredibly useful tool to help digest data, but human intelligence is still required for the last mile. She added that when using AI, the output is only as good as the input, so you still need to be diligent in knowing when new research must be conducted. The panel’s consensus was that while AI has a very positive and tangible impact on insights management, it’s not meant to replace human intelligence. “The last mile from insights to action requires collaboration with a team and a lot of brainpower to think about how we can act,” Connie summarized.

The platforms run themselves

While brainpower is necessary to understand the last mile of an insight, the panellists agreed that the energy needed to maintain their Market Logic platforms is minimal. “We have an internal point of contact,” said Martin, “but the heavy lifting is done by the Market Logic people and our suppliers contribute content as well… which reduces our internal workload to the bare minimum.”

At Home Depot, said Brendan, there was important work during the early stages, but after that, “the time spent with the platform is time using it. Today, one senior manager spends around 2% of her time managing the Insights Depot. Market Logic handles 99% of the work.”

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