Leveraging Agile Research to Fuel Your Insights Engine

Sep 1, 2016

You know that feeling of mild anguish you get when a word is on the tip of your tongue? Many corporate marketers and insights professionals may feel the same when they have a business question that they think could be answered in whole or in part by market research that was already paid for and conducted by someone else in the organization.

“Often the answer to a marketing question already exists in the firm’s historical research; finding it is the challenge,” according to Frank van den Driest of Millward Brown Vermeer and Stan Sthanunathan and Keith Weed of Unilever. (Harvard Business Review, September 2016)

In the last 5 years, a number of marketing and insights organizations have improved the ability to share, manage, and curate information from syndicated data, research studies, or other data sources. For example, Unilever’s PeopleWorld system—one component of their “Insights Engine”—makes information from more than 70,000 consumer research documents and social media data searchable. And there is now at least one market research specific start-up (Knowledge Hound) trying to solve the access and retrieval pain points.

When possible, reviewing the consumer insights that are already available allows insights leaders to move more quickly and cost effectively toward a decision. It also pushes an insights department, and a company overall, toward becoming a “learning organization,” as defined in a well-known organizational development approach promoted by The Boston Consulting Group.

But in some instances, the information uncovered may benefit from a quick refresh to ensure that the consumer insights still apply or can be generalized from one country to another. In other instances, the information may partially answer the business question, but still leaves a few gaps.

Agile Market Research Can Help Fill the Gaps

Agile market research can be a useful complement to help insights leaders enhance and expand on prior research, since it can be used in a cost-effective manner to quickly and iteratively fill in knowledge gaps to complete a holistic picture.

For example, agile qualitative and quantitative research can be used to learn more about an emerging consumer group noted but not explored in prior research, or to understand more about social media comments that seem to indicate a new product use or occasion. Agile market research can also be used to obtain a quick, cost-effective refresh if key information is hypothesized to have changed since the last internal studies were conducted.

We believe this tip-of-the-tongue pain point can be solved in at least two ways. First, an agile research approach offers the speed, quality, and cost effectiveness that may be exactly what is needed to answer any remaining business questions you may have.  Second, suppliers can offer summaries for clients who conduct a certain number of projects with them. When applicable, we offer Research Summaries in which we synthesize and extract actionable insights from the studies you have conducted with us—one step toward more learning for your organization.

Start With What You Already Know

Starting with what you already know shows that your insights organization is progressing toward becoming an adaptable “learning organization.” Using an agile research solution can be an important complement to help you accelerate your learning and grow your business. To learn how the small beverage brand Suja used agile research to uncover deeper insights that augmented their initial DIY approach, check out the case study below.


Frank van den Driest, Stan Sthanunathan, and Keith Weed.  “Building an Insights Engine.” Harvard Business Review. September 2016.  https://hbr.org/2016/09/building-an-insights-engine

“Build Best-In-Class Insights Capabilities.” Boston Consulting Group. https://www.bcg.com/expertise/institutes/center-customer-insight/build-best-in-class-insights-capabilities.aspx

Written By

Renee Smith

Renee Smith

Chief Research Officer

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