by Maggie Ledbetter & Kendall Nash
What do Disney, Square, Uber, and Burke have in common? They were founded in the midst of recessions – times of great uncertainty.
We recently navigated the new, virtual conference environment at TMRE 2020, where Zoom breakout rooms replaced run-ins in the coffee line, and a chat feed in each broadcast replaced quick debriefs with colleagues at the high tops. The format was new – and at first we were uncertain of what our virtual experience would hold. But we left feeling inspired, challenged, and with a new appreciation for the opportunities that have emerged despite – or maybe because of – the chaos that is 2020.
This year, we find ourselves in an unusual environment. But as we were reminded at TMRE, times like these accelerate the rate of transformation, give us new platforms to inspire change, and elevate the role of insights.
Nothing says disruption like 2020. From the way we work, to the way we shop to the way we engage with others, every aspect of who we are as people and consumers has been transformed. Trendhunter Jeremy Gutsche started the third day with a playful and inspiring keynote on the opportunities created in times of chaos, as people are pushed to new levels of creativity. Gutsche provided practical methods for harnessing the chaos-driven creativity: Be insatiably curious. Stay open to outsiders’ perspectives. And proactively hunt opportunity by stepping out into a new category, hobby, or creative outlet and by engaging with people who have different lenses.
Truly understanding consumers in the midst of change helps brands find overlooked opportunities to serve them. And in consumer insights, we’re not just along for the ride; we have the ability not only to monitor an ever-evolving landscape, but to drive change in the future.
Times of chaos provide new opportunities for us to be change agents by providing a time and space where conventional methods are necessarily re-evaluated. On day two, Bestselling Author Jonah Berger talked about how catalysts “create change with less energy” by removing barriers and obstacles, rather than pushing an agenda. He gave practical tips for catalyzing change such as illuminating the distance between held beliefs and current behaviors, thereby leading others to the solution themselves.
He highlighted an example of a Thai Health Promotion Foundation campaign trying to get people to stop a harmful behavior. Rather than pushing the often-told message of how the behavior is harmful, the campaign instead shed light on the disconnect between people’s beliefs and behaviors. They put individuals who were taking part in the behavior into a situation in which they felt compelled to explain to others why it was harmful and convince them why they should not engage in it.
In order for our work to drive change within organizations, we must help stakeholders identify the gaps between where they are today and where they want to be and to collaboratively define the path to close the gap. If we get it right, we can elevate the role of insights to new heights in the future.
The trajectory of insights has been accelerating for several years, and the change is perpetuated by a pandemic that’s shaking up consumer thinking and behavior. Consumers are changing faster than ever, so monitoring the rapid evolution of what they want and need is critical. The pandemic has given insights the platform it deserves and those delivering insights a more prominent seat at the table as teams yearn to understand evolving consumer mindsets.
And as the role of insights grows, it’s no surprise that the skills insights professionals need are evolving just as quickly. Key ingredients that position us to make the greatest impact are: developing an insatiable curiosity, seeking out myriad perspectives, and instilling a deep understanding of when and why to use certain tools, beyond simply knowing the mechanics of how to use them.
On day one, Linda Hill shared great perspective on what it takes to be agile, highlighting diversity of thought and facilitation of constructive debate as must-haves. Critically, that debate is grounded in listening to understand, not in advocating our own ideas. “More inquiry, less advocacy.” In a world where everyone is quick to talk and slow to listen, the insights professionals who invite different perspectives to the table will propel brands further.
Sessions throughout the week touched on additional skills needed for the future insights professional. Natalie Erickson from Optum highlighted our role as the conduit for bringing data points together in an environment where we have more information than we can make sense of. She emphasized the opportunity we have to bring customer needs into focus and create more efficient means of interpreting and disseminating data. Sofía Stromberg from AT&T outlined strategies for keeping in regular communication with key stakeholders and decision makers such as sharing data early on in the analysis process to build trust and a partnership. She emphasized the opportunity we have to expedite the buy-in process for making on-the-fly decisions to keep up with evolving business needs.
While the uncertainty we find ourselves in is far from the reality we envisioned for 2020, it certainly has paved the way for a new era of insights. The chaos of the year has accelerated the rate of consumer transformation, giving us new platforms to inspire change and breathing new life into the importance of insights in the organizations we serve. TMRE 2020 provided an uplifting reminder that in consumer insights, we have the ability to create change in the future. And that’s pretty darn exciting.
Strategist. Storyteller. Problem Solver. Maggie has a passion for partnering with brands to design and execute learning plans that drive strategy and propel businesses forward.
Kendall’s curiosity and passion for consumer learning allow her to design smart research that brings brand teams and consumers together. Her thrills come from helping her clients uncover what people truly want and need, and translating that so brands can win.
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