To make a difference, we need to keep adapting

Despite the scale of the Insight industry - worth $80bn according to latest ESOMAR data - the real value we provide isn’t insights, it’s commercial success. That $80bn is spent in the pursuit of increased revenue or improved profitability or bigger market shares.

For that to happen, insights need to make an impact - but that’s easier said than done. With the growing pace and complexity of business decision-making, the volume of competing distractions and some pretty seismic shifts in working practices in recent years, research agencies and buyers are having to rapidly rethink the way things are done.

Talking about this with clients, 4 themes stand out:

  1. The pace of strategy and innovation is increasing, creating a risk of research being left behind.
  2. Insight and analytics teams are under increased pressure to demonstrate the actionability – and ultimately the ROI – of their work
  3. Insight must cut through and stand out amidst the deluge of information cascading into stakeholders’ inboxes and brains
  4. Many businesses are feeling distant from the lives of their customers, despite (or even because of) an abundance of data – they need to rebuild connection and empathy

Given the pressures, businesses are rightly demanding more from research

At Verve, we’ve always been known for great communities and smart, digital research – combining leading edge technology with always-on conversations to get to answers, quickly. And as society, technology and insight have evolved, we’ve extended our ecosystem of digital tools, integrated wider cultural data sources and invested in diverse skillsets to help clients get a greater perspective - for agile projects as well as longer-term communities.

We believe that great work needn’t be slow work

It’s an industry cliché, but things are getting faster. This has led to the widespread adoption of agile working practices, as product teams’ power through sprints, scrums and huddles in the quest for greater efficiency. When you are using research to quickly test, learn and iteratively develop your ideas, the concept of waiting while an agency does “analysis” or creates 40 slides of PowerPoint is jarring.

Indeed, the GRIT 2021 Business & Innovation report shows ‘faster time to insights’ as the number one unmet need for suppliers – with nothing else coming close to it – while the new GRIT Insights Practice report cites ‘agile research methods’ has overtaken ‘data integration’ as the second most-adopted ‘buzz’ practice among both buyers and suppliers.

We’ve developed digital research approaches that help us get more quickly and efficiently to human needs. The rise of AI-powered collection and interpretation of cultural and societal trends helps us find new opportunities in a fraction of the time it once took, while agile on-the-go reporting means thinking and iterating alongside our clients, helping to embed work directly into concept development.

We believe that tech enables us to focus on what really matters: commercial outcomes

A lack of pace isn’t the only accusation being thrown at conventional research. It can also be seen by stakeholders to lack direct actionability. Agencies must focus on an agreed commercial goal and to ensure that their insights directly support it - or even share responsibility for making it happen.

This suggests a shift towards more consultative working. But as the GRIT report notes, too much focus on speed and technology could end up having the opposite effect: “Although technology continues to evolve to meet the process needs that rose to the top of the list, the industry must also have a thriving consulting capability to truly prosper. As the industry evolves to adapt to the rapid changes in global cultures, technology, and business needs, it’s vital that we don’t get overly focused on the shiny objects of technology and that we continue to look at the big picture of delivering real business impact and value.”

While Verve has clear credentials as a pioneer in research technology, we know that technology isn’t the product. The product is commercial success for our clients: we use technology to do the hard work, freeing up our brains to think, to dream, to advise. To take a couple of recent examples, we’ve:

  • Delivered projects across a huge range of stakeholders and topics for Shell using their community of EV Drivers, informing R&D, proposition development and crucial strategic decisions at C-suite level
  • Provided longitudinal strategic insight into the John Lewis Partnership’s five-year, Transformation Plan; using cutting-edge methodologies to deliver projects that are shaping the future brand platforms for both Waitrose and John Lewis

We believe in the power of emotion

If commercial success is our aim, then simply delivering insights isn’t enough - a business must be moved by them to do something. This can’t happen if insights don’t cut through the noise - to make any difference at all, they need to be noticed; they need to stop stakeholders in their tracks.

But it’s not just about cutting through. For businesses to make changes or take risks, the key decision-makers need to be persuaded. As the advertising industry has known for decades, if you want to persuade people, you don’t tell them facts, you appeal to their emotions.

Analysis for the IPA’s The Long And The Short Of It report has shown that emotional ads are twice as effective as rational ads. This is not just because they make choices more desirable or sexy, it’s because emotional ads also override rational barriers (like whether you really need something, or what it costs).

As Hollywood storytelling guru Robert McKee explains, “People are not inspired to act by reason alone...facts are met with facts...when you’re trying to persuade people they are arguing with you in their heads. To persuade people you must unite ideas with emotions”.

This isn’t new. According to the 2021 GRIT Insights Practice report ‘storytelling and data visualisation’ has been the single most-adopted ‘buzz’ practice among buyers and suppliers for the past 5 years. But adopting it is easier said than done.

When it comes to inspiration, the research industry has traditionally clipped its own wings with a deep-seated belief that its role is first and foremost to inform rather than to drive business decisions. We aim to inspire – by telling powerful stories that move people to take action.

We believe in rebuilding empathy

In society, it’s getting harder for us to feel close to people who aren’t like us. We increasingly live in social bubbles, becoming less able to appreciate others’ viewpoints. We do fewer of the things that promote mutual understanding, whether it’s talking to our neighbours or taking part in team sports. We sit in our own homes, buying things from the comfort of our sofas.

And it’s just as acute a problem in business. Businesses should be better at understanding people because they spend $80bn a year on customer insights, backed up by vast quantities of data. Yet more and more there’s a nagging sense that the business is lacking empathy: empathy towards people whose lives are different; whose motivations and constraints and circumstances and concerns are different; whose favourite meals and TV shows and holiday destinations are different.

We think it’s important for businesses to connect staff with customers and prospects through direct conversations or experiences, helping them to things differently and reconnect. Done properly, customer immersion can galvanise businesses and inspire truly original ideas.

Shaking up research

With businesses demanding more from their research, we never forget that the real value we provide isn’t insights, it’s commercial success – and we’re on a mission to drive better decision making by energising insight. As clients’ needs and expectations continue to evolve, so too does our way of providing that energy.

Verve was built on expertise in digital techniques and community panels, with account teams who really know their clients’ businesses and categories inside out. We’re increasingly complementing those core strengths with specialists in key practices such as innovation, customer immersion, semiotics, social intelligence, behavioural science and cultural analysis to uncover powerful new insights and deliver them in a way that drives change.

We believe it’s the research agency of the future

Get in touch to find out more about how we could help with your brand challenges