Matthew Miller
Mar 17, 2016

Insights disconnect: WFA research says quarter of marketers unhappy

KUALA LUMPUR - Less than a third of marketers are satisfied with the insights function within their companies, and a quarter have a negative perception of the ability of their insight teams to produce commercially actionable insights and act as strategic consultants, according to research released today by the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA).

Insights disconnect: WFA research says quarter of marketers unhappy

The 'Future of Insights' research, being unveiled today at the WFA's Global Marketer Conference in Kuala Lumpur, is based on a survey of more than 300 senior marketers and insights leaders in 94 of the "world’s largest brand owners, representing a total annual marketing spend of US$75 billion", according to the WFA. The research was produced in conjunction with BrainJuicer.

The gap

  • While 40 percent of those working in insights pictured themselves as strategic consultants, only 25 percent of the marketers surveyed agreed with this view.
  • In fact, 30 percent of marketers described their insight teams as 'librarians'—a persona characterised primarily as "data collector and distributor". Only 4 percent of insights professionals put themselves in this lowly category.

Senior marketers who held a neutral or negative view of insights teams dinged their insights colleagues for methodologies that were too traditional, insights that were too obvious and difficult to action, and a lack of passion and business understanding:

Not all professionals in the insights function are happy either. Though half felt positive about their role, 16 percent expressed a negative outlook. This group cited factors such a lack of resources, an excess of silos and seeing hard work go to waste: 

The good news

Despite the issues described above, the WFA report, which is available here, focuses on positive aspects such as common aspirations between the two groups. 

For example, the research shows that 50 percent of insights leaders and senior marketers see insights teams as efficient, expert, trusted advisors and educators, who build on ideas and push recommendations.

More importantly, the two groups share a common desire to turn insights into an internal consultancy that can deliver challenging, business-oriented viewpoints and help develop a strategic roadmap, the organisation said.

One surprisingly simple finding: in the companies where the two groups shared a positive vibe, insights and marketing were more likely to be physically close to each other. The research showed a 15-point increase in positive sentiment among respondents who work in close proximity.

The research also delved into how well the two groups agree on the effectiveness of various techniques and how well the respondents have absorbed the latest scientific consensus about modern marketing.

On the technique question, the four techniques seen as most effective across all respondents were ethnography, behavioural science, analysis of behavioural data, and storytelling. However, differences emerged when analysing the results according to job function; in general, insights teams seemed more willing to adopt newer but proven techniques, while marketers were more devoted to time-honoured techniques such as focus groups. 

On the modern-marketer question, the graph below shows how many respondents correctly identified a series of demonstrably false statements about marketing—things that a 20th century marketer would have accepted without question but that a marketer up on the latest in behavioural science would know are not true. The report noted that if you break down responses in this section by the respondents' job function, the insights people were more likely than their marketing counterparts to reject the old ways of thinking, which suggests an opportunity for them to play that critical strategic role and lead the way in this ongoing revolution.

Commenting on the study

John Kearon, chief juicer at BrainJuicer:

There’s an opportunity here for insights leaders to be bold, and become the kind of strategic consultants they want to be, ones that challenge assumptions and push a business forward. On the topics of consumer irrationality, emotional advertising, and brand-centric communications, our study shows these challenges should find a willing audience.

Robert Dreblow, head of marketing capabilities at the WFA:

Actionable insights are an essential part of great marketing. Firms that get their insights teams delivering new tools and insights that they can leverage across the business will be in a better position to deliver sustainable growth.


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