The new profile of the insights professional

James Webb

Our very own Liz Norman recently wrote a piece on the changing nature of insight teams, the explosion of new sources data has changed the marketing landscape and consequently, the skillsets, and also mindsets, needed within insight teams.  The blog article first appeared on Research World. 

3min read.

The insights industry is transforming and to enable that, so are the teams and the individuals providing the insight.  What new skills are needed and how do we help insight teams develop those capabilities?

New Skills

Developing technology has allowed the industry to collect and analyse data in new and increasingly diverse ways.  This, in turn, has meant a range of new technical skills are needed.  This is particularly true at a relatively junior level in organisations that are choosing, for the first time, to bring a lot of the analysis in house. Programming skills like R, Python, SQL are more commonly needed, as is experience in data warehousing tools such as Hadoop as well as tools such as Tableau & Alteryx for data visualisation and even AI technology.

It isn’t only data science that is driving the need for new and different skills. The desire for intelligence that is fast, engaging, makes use of recent developments in psychology, cuts out bias and is collected at the point of decision making, all contribute to a need for insight professionals who have knowledge of new techniques beyond the traditional qual and quant approaches. Skills in areas like neurolinguistic programming, behavioural economics, digital ethnography, video-diaries and social listening are increasingly in demand.

Many of the newer techniques are qual/quant, but more than that, the best insight teams are fully intelligence agnostic. They are able to take their pick of the most appropriate techniques so get an informed solution.

Personality

An understanding of all the techniques and tools and how to get the best out of them is not going to create impactful insight if you don’t ask the right question in the first place. Similarly, it’s necessary to go beyond the results and put the knowledge gained into commercial context, possibly taking an intuitive leap to provide an impactful solution. To do that, insight teams need people with distinctive competencies and personality traits; curiosity, commercial nous, analytical skills, intuition and creativity have always been necessary to create insight. To ensure it has real impact, communication and story-telling skills are also essential.

Today these traits are not enough and insight teams are now looking for new thinking and approaches. Arguably these new competencies are even more important than the skills and they are far harder to coach.

At a recent talk Liz Boffey, Head of Insight for Nestlé Food and Dairy, listed open-mindedness as one of three key criteria she is looking for when recruiting. The desire to experiment and try new ideas is essential to get the very best from all the tools out there. She also listed pro-activity. I would add to that drive and speed. It’s important that insight teams drive the application of data in a world where many managers feel they are drowning in information and DIY tools are not as DIY as we would like to think. That needs to be done ever more speedily if it is to have real impact in an increasingly fast changing world.

Great communication skills and the ability to story tell have always been necessary to create impact. Today, I would extend that to great networkers.  Data often comes in to a variety of departments within an organisation. It’s only by networking and bringing others together, that it becomes possible to combine intelligence and thinking from a wide range of sources into one impactful solution.

Finally at a senior level, to head up the impactful insight departments, you need to be a visionary leader. Companies need someone who can overcome fear in others and create clear paths in a new world. They need a champion who can promote the new opportunities to both the Board and the team below them.

Summary

Retooling the insight team isn’t always going to be possible. There are always going to be some who aren’t interested in learning new skills or don’t have the traits needed for insight today. But for many, the right leadership, experience and training will enable them to embrace this exciting new era. Insight offers enormous opportunity and a really interesting dynamic career for those that choose to grab at it.

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