Marketing and insight are teaming up to drive better business

Marketing and insight are collaborating more closely than ever in a bid to develop rich, relevant and personalised content that drives deep consumer engagement.


Collaboration between marketing and insight is helping both sides of the partnership make better decisions to devise stronger, more consumer focused campaigns that drive businesses forward.

At online retailer Shop Direct the close relationship between marketing and insight is helping improve the company’s fundamental understanding of customer needs, attitudes and habits, both in and out of the retail environment, according to group marketing director Kenyatte Nelson.

Over the past six months alone the Shop Direct insight team has spent more than 4,000 hours taking part in at-home customer visits, quantitative studies and analysis of online consumer shopping journeys.

“As marketers we want to get our campaigns right and then keep iterating to get even better results. To do that we need to know what our customer’s are all about and then turn that insight into action,” says Nelson.

“That’s why the relationship between our insight and marketing teams is so important. Our ability to deliver customer, and ultimately shareholder, value rests on it.”

Shop Direct taps into customer insight to dictate how it prioritises its investment. Nelson explains that if insight shows its fashion customers care about delivery options then it may choose to invest more in this area and communicating the new benefits, which could result in a reduced investment in above-the-line activity.

Customers don’t care about your silos, they don’t care how your organisation is structured.

Bruce Rogers, Forbes

Central to the insight function is the data intelligence team who create models that help the marketing team identify Shop Direct’s most valuable customers, drilling down into their motivations, changing attitudes and what will help the brand attract, retain and grow its customer base going forward.

Data generated by the insight team is also being used to drive Shop Direct’s personalisation strategy. The team, for example, use lookalike modelling to target new consumers on Facebook who match the characteristics of their existing customers.  

Closeness between marketing and insight is also central to success at US business publisher Forbes. CMO Tom Davis and chief insights officer Bruce Rogers are closely aligned in their goal to devise a new advertising media model for Forbes as the magazine moves further into digital.

Davis credits the insights team with helping him change the way he thinks about the depth of engagement and how this relates to cultivating repeat customers.

“The business of business is changing so quickly and the insights group led by Bruce is such a dynamic business opportunity for us, which has huge growth margins and growth goals,” he explains.

READ MORE: Marketing and insight have united to create a customer-centric culture at Forbes

Fully integrated

The level to which insight is integrated into the marketing function differs from company to company. Research conducted by Millward Brown Vermeer, carried out in partnership with Marketing Week and the Market Research Society back in 2015, discovered that some businesses believe insight should sit outside marketing.

The Insights 2020 report found that some of the most successful companies have research, data and analytics sitting across the company, reporting directly to the CEO.

READ MORE: The future of insight: Why it lies outside marketing

However, creating distance between marketing and insight is not an approach that works for every business. At Forbes Davis oversees marketing, which includes the insights function, meaning he and chief insights officer Bruce Rogers work closely together on a daily basis. It is for this reason Rogers firmly believes businesses cannot be successful if they take a siloed approach.

“Breaking down silos is all about putting the customer at the centre,” Rogers explains. “Customers don’t care about your silos, they don’t care how your organisation is structured. If you put customers at the centre it tends to naturally break down those silos.”

Shop Direct’s Nelson is in agreement, arguing that insight is at the heart of commercial success because it creates understanding of what makes customers tick. It therefore helps build effective strategies for market penetration and customer loyalty, meaning it should always have a seat at the table alongside marketing.

“Fostering a culture of customer-centric thinking with a test and learn mentality will bring marketing and insight closer. Brand and marketing teams need to build customer learning programmes together and senior leaders should be asking questions like, have we tested this with customers?” he adds.

Insight is also at the heart of the marketing team at travel website Expedia, where research and consumer insights director Luis Fernandes reports directly into the global brand marketing lead.

“The fact the impact of the marketing function can be measured precisely means it becomes a lot more important to have close integration between the marketing function and an insight specialist to influence the creative development and measure the impact of the performance,” he says.

“If you can get insights out of the measurement then you start creating a virtuous circle of learning and it never stops. So reporting directly to brand marketing just facilities a great deal of that co-operation.”

Fernandes explains that he considers himself first and foremost a marketer who has a specialism in insight and research, and it is for this reason he does not see insight as a separate function.

Shared goals

At the BBC, marketing and audience research and planning not only work together in the same space, both report into the same marketing and audiences director, meaning everyone is working to the same objectives and metrics.

Charlotte Lock, BBC marketing and audiences director for content, radio and education, explains that the portfolios each team works within are constructed principally around audience behaviour.

Fostering a culture of customer-centric thinking with a test and learn mentality will bring marketing and insight closer.

Kenyatte Nelson, Shop Direct

There is, for instance, a Younger Audiences Portfolio with accountability for the BBC Children, BBC Three, Radio 1, Radio 1 Xtra and Asian Network services. These services are using insights to respond to emerging audience behaviours, which tend to be increasingly digital, disaggregated and on-demand, Lock explains.

“The insight teams monitor, analyse and interpret that behaviour so the marketers and media planners can devise strategies to respond to it. This involves check-ins such as ‘meet the audience’ sessions where we share and evolve current activity with groups of audience members and behavioural insights around audience consumption habits.”

The insight and marketing team recently collaborated on a study into the shifting need-states of audiences aged 0 to 24. The teams created curated content bundles that the audience could then select based on their current mood. Ranging from “happy” to “hungry”, the content bundles helped give younger audiences the chance to access their own version of the BBC tailored specifically to their mood.

Taking action

For insights to be at their most compelling the outcomes need to be actionable and have the potential to make a real impact on the business, says Shop Direct’s Kenyatte Nelson.

“Insights aren’t just facts or truths; they also show us a question or tension the customer is facing. By unearthing a question to be answered, insights become actionable and that’s where we see real opportunity.”

He argues that unearthing actionable insights is, however, just the start. These insights need to put the marketing team in a position to solve a real life problems facing the consumer.

“When we prove through our marketing, and overall proposition, that we can solve that problem, the customer positively assesses or reassesses their view of our brands,” Nelson adds.

Actionable insights helped the team at the BBC better understand how to personalise content for its readers during the June 2017 general election. The team used audience geography to tailor BBC News emails to readers, who received specific information about their constituency and candidates.

As a result the response rates to the emails were “excellent”, says Lock, who still believes insights can have value even if they are not directly actionable in their ability to shape strategy over the longer term.

For Expedia’s Fernandes it is the quality of the insights that is crucial. He argues that if insights are not focused or actionable then they become just “nice nuggets” to have.

“If an insight we as a team generate cannot be applied then it’s not the right insight, or the insight is too vague, so we need to break it down to what can be actioned upon,” he explains.

In order to gain deeper understanding of consumer behaviour Fernandes and his team created a series of traveller personas to represent Expedia’s various consumers, looking at the different types of trips people book, not only with Expedia but other travel brands, as well as trying to understand their general media consumption.

This rich understanding of what makes consumers tick helped the insight team identify the best channels to reach out to the different personas in order to serve them tailored content and offers.

“We’re not just selling flights and hotels, we’re selling experiences, so by understanding the response of consumers at that first stage, we then need to go beyond that to really tailor it and make our offer a lot more relevant to them,” Fernandes explains.

“Having an understanding of the personas is great to influence content and the channels we need to reach those audiences.”

Going forward Fernandes believes insight teams, seamlessly embedded within the marketing function, should be committed not only to generating insights the company requires in the short term, but also to anticipating what the company will need to succeed in the future.

Marketing Week interviewed Forbes’s Tom Davis and Bruce Rogers for our A Marketer’s Best Friend series. Watch the video here.