Creating actionable insight – if you’re still asking ‘so what’, start asking ‘why’

8 12 2013

Creating actionable insight is the cornerstone of being a customer-centric organisation. And in principle is sounds quite simple – find something insightful within your data and then take action based on what you found. Easy!

Maybe not… recent research by IPSOS MORI for Verint suggests that while nearly all organisations collect some form of customer-related feedback or insight, most are not leveraging this feedback strategically. Those that are doing something with it seem to be focusing on using it to measure their people/processes rather than to improve customer experiences. Some aren’t even doing that much, including many sports organisations.

The reason for this is starting the process with the wrong question. Too often the starting questions are “what data can we easily get” or “what do we already measure”? As a result, its very hard to then find insightful “so what” answers that can inform relevant action.

Instead the starting question needs to be “why do we need the insight” or “what will we to do with the answers”? Knowing what the insight work needs to answer, and how it will be used, provides direction to the work. It defines what data needs to be captured and from who, and it also identifies who will be responsible for acting on the answers.

So let’s look at the process for creating actionable insights, and where the friction points and blockages might be. Creating actionable insights is a simple 4-step process:

Actionable Insight

Collect – source, gather and aggregate raw data about your current or potential customers – who they are and what they are saying, thinking, feeling and doing about your sport. To achieve growth you will need to be capturing both current behaviours (what/how/when) and the influences & motivations driving those behaviours (why).

Analyse – crunch the data to find trends, patterns and potential relevance across the different data sources.

Interpret – review the analysis in the context of your organisation/customers/market, to understand what’s happening and why it may be of significance to you. This “so what” step is what turns data into insight, yet its the one often missed out or rushed. However without being clear about the “so what”, organisations cannot then respond successfully.

Respond – take timely action in response to what the insight is telling you. This response can be both internal – improving plans, processes, delivery etc – and/or external – improving the offer to customers or just letting them know you were listening.

This still looks quite simple, or at least straightforward. So where are the challenges? Three I’ve seen recently are:

Starting in the wrong place – projects are being scoped based on what data can be captured, rather than what insights are required. By not asking why the insight is required, the data subsequently captured might be interesting but doesn’t help drive action and growth.

Losing control – the “so what’ interpretation is being completely outsourced along with the data collection, rather than benefiting from the expertise of people across the organisation. As a result it’s much harder to identify “so what does this mean for us”, and misses the opportunity to engage the organisation in creating customer-centric responses.

Missing in action – the outputs of the “insight work” appear in presentations and newsletters, but don’t subsequently spark any considered action. This maybe because the “so what” is missing, or because the staff aren’t engaged with the work or because the reports weren’t created with actions in mind.

Given these challenges, why bother? Simply put, the opportunities for creating and acting upon improved insights are huge (as are the risks of doing nothing). Sport has a massive opportunity to drive sustainable growth through an improved understanding of how to add more value to current and potential participants. And this improved understanding will improve the focus and effectiveness of delivery, which means this growth can come with an improved return on investment.

Thanks to Michiel Lely and Roula Andari at Verint for prompting this post, with their presentation and subsequent discussion at the Directors Club breakfast.

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Nike’s growth fuelled by deep customer insight

2 03 2013

This week Nike announced it was committing $50m to Michelle Obama’s campaign to get American kids more active, citing the high social costs of the “inactivity epidemic”. This commitment is just the latest example of the lesson Nike learned many years ago – to sustain growth, they must be customer-led not product-led. And when you consider they announced double digit revenue growth in December and Fast Company voted them the most innovative company in the world thanks to recent product and manufacturing innovations, you realise just how customer-focused Nike must be!

Losing sight of customer needs & market trends

In the mid 1980s, Nike’s growth stalled on the back of a failed brand extension into casual shoes. Despite Nike being a trendy brand, and casual shoes being a growth market, they failed to grab significant market share. According to founder Phil Knight, the problem was Nike had lost sight of who their customers really were. Their target market had always been performance athletes, reflecting their heritage in the legends of Bill Bowerman and Steve ‘Pre’ Prefontaine. Since Bowerman invented the waffle sole by pouring rubber into a waffle maker, Nike have been at the forefront of product innovation in every category they play in. In entering a new market, Nike took the same approach and produced “a functional shoe we thought the world needed, but it was funny looking and the buying public didn’t want it”.

Why this happened is a warning to sports organisations that’s as relevant now as it was when Phil Knight originally gave it. “In the early days, when we were just a running shoe company and almost all our employees were runners, we understood the consumer very well. There is no shoe school, so where do you recruit people for a company that develops and markets running shoes? The running track. It made sense, and it worked. We and the consumer were one and the same. When we started making shoes for basketball, tennis, and football, we did essentially the same thing we had done in running.”

Eventually this one-dimensional approach to customer insight became a weakness. “We were missing an immense group. We understood our “core consumers,” the athletes who were performing at the highest level of the sport. We saw them as being at the top of a pyramid, with weekend jocks in the middle of the pyramid, and everybody else who wore athletic shoes at the bottom. Even though about 60% of our product is bought by people who don’t use it for the actual sport, everything we did was aimed at the top. We said, if we get the people at the top, we’ll get the others because they’ll know that the shoe can perform. But that was an oversimplification. Sure, it’s important to get the top of the pyramid, but you’ve also got to speak to the people all the way down.”

Becoming genuinely customer-led

So what’s different now Nike are customer-led rather than product-led? Knight continues “whether you’re talking about the core consumer or the person on the street, the principle is the same: you have to come up with what the consumer wants, and you need a vehicle to understand it. To understand the rest of the pyramid, we do a lot of work at the grass-roots level. We go to amateur sports events and spend time at gyms and tennis courts talking to people.”

Within this story are several keys to organisations being genuinely customer-led

  • Be wary of using staff as a proxy for the needs of the customer, as this becomes potentially limiting if/when the actual customer base diversifies beyond the core customers
  • To understand customers, get out to where they are buying/using the products and services you provide – see how they use it, and listen to how they would improve it
  • To achieve scale, design products and services based on the common needs across target customer groups, rather than focusing on the differences between them.
  • Changing the focus from creating products to delivering solutions (as discussed in this recent post on ‘Re-evaluating the 4Ps of marketing for sport’)

In this context, Nike’s announcement of combining social responsibility with business growth makes good sense. Nike knows what’s important to their customers both now (a company that takes social responsibility seriously) and in the future (active and sports-aware kids will become the target customers of the future). It’s not just their innovation department that is thinking several steps beyond the current product line.

To read more about customer-led growth, click here





Parallels between the roles of a team captain and an NGB

25 02 2013

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The role of an international rugby captain came under public and media debate in Wales last week. Regular captain Sam Warburton was fit again but left on the bench, with Ryan Jones retaining his place and the captaincy. With many accepting the logic of not changing a winning team, focus turned to the role of the captain(s) and who could/should/would do what.

The captain’s role can take many forms, including leader, organiser, encourager and of course player. And the specifics of what’s required often vary by sport, team and the individual in question. But what is consistent is that the role is as much as about bringing the best out of others as it is about playing well themselves.

The debate in Wales got me thinking about the role of NGBs. Like team captains, NGBs can be required to play many roles within and on behalf of their sport. But while the requirements vary by sport and situation, it is vital that the NGB has clearly defined its role before it finalises its business model.

What roles could an NGB play?

The many potential roles of an NGB can be clustered under three headings – leader, enabler and deliverer.

Leader – This could include the traditional role of governor, setting and enforcing rules of play and standards of experience. Or it could be a thought leader, sharing lessons, successes or new innovations with other partners. Or it could be a connector, co-ordinating the different organisations across the sport to achieve common measures of success. Or it could be leading the performance of a group of partners the NGB has formally or informally outsourced work to.

Enabler – This could include recruiting, training and upskilling the workforce across the sport, through a range of formal and informal qualifications. Or it could be supporting the delivery chain of clubs or facilities to improve their facilities, marketing skills or other capabilities. Or it could be about aggregating, adding value to and sharing consumer and market intelligence to enable partners across the sport to provide innovative and relevant offers to a growing number of participants.

Deliverer – This could include directly filling a delivery gap, either with national programmes or through a club network. Or it could be running competitions and events that other providers train people/teams to take part in. Or it could be through stimulating innovation by developing and testing new products to create a proof of concept for the market to scale up. Or it could be through orchestrating and delivering an overarching campaign to drive demand across the sport.

My intention is not to prescribe the ideal role of an NGB. That depends on the market their whole sport operates in, future customer needs and the strategic outcomes of the NGB. However the strategic choices and the information required to make them are similar across sports. And the key word here is choice. In the same way that Sam Warburton or Ryan Jones couldn’t play all 15 positions and direct the game from the stands, no organisation can successfully be everything to everybody.

Strategic choices require a clear understanding of the whole market

To develop a clear understanding of the market (sport) and its potential customers (participants), requires answering 4 broad questions:

What does current demand look like?
This includes understanding who is doing what, where, when, how, why & with who; and hence identifying the current trends, customer behaviours, needs, influences and barriers.

What does current supply look like?
This includes understanding who is providing what, where, when, why & how successfully; and hence identifying the needs, priorities and drivers of current providers.

What does future demand look like?
Given the trends within the sport, across other sports and throughout the target customers wider lifestyle, how is demand likely to change if nothing different is done? Are the potential market forces and new trends likely to increase or decrease demand over the next 3-5 years?

What does future supply look like?
Given the most likely political, economic, social and technological trends, what is likely to happen to supply over the next 3-5 years? For example will facilities be opened/closed/repurposed and what could be done to respond to the positive and negative impact of this potential future?

In summary, these aren’t simple questions to answer as they require a deep and on-going flow of market intelligence and consumer insights. However some NGBs are already building this understanding of where their whole sport is now and where its going. This understanding is being used to evolve their business model by making strategic choices about the market opportunity they are going to pursue and the role and priorities they will need to achieve it.

This focus on defining a key role is crucial to future growth as the expertise and processes required to be very good at governing a sport, running events, orchestrating national marketing campaigns, developing innovative products are all different – and these are just a few of the potential roles NGBs may choose to play. Doing a bit of everything isn’t the answer, as anyone who’s seen a prop dive pass or attempt a drop goal will testify…








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