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Ideas not insights: Unilever explains how technology is transforming market research

Today, too many organizations find themselves drowning in data, struggling to turn copious amounts of customer information into real actions. And things are only getting tougher for insights teams: there’s been an explosion of new data sources and the pace of change is only getting faster. It’s led to smart people stuck doing boring, manual tasks, and attrition rates in the industry going up.

In his X4 Summit presentation, Stan Sthanuathan talked about how Unilever has sped up the process from gathering research data to acting on it. The Executive Vice President of CMI explained how new technologies allowed his team to make the transition from just collecting and cleaning data, to taking real action that impacts business results. Crucial, he says, as ideas become the new currency of business, not insights.

Technology is an emotive subject - how do you get it right?

AI and machine learning evoke strong, polarized opinions. Many welcome it as the future of work. Others fear it for exactly the same reason. But in the market research world, the scales are massively tipped in favor of AI.

When we surveyed 250 researchers in early 2018 we found:

  • 93% described AI as an industry opportunity
  • 80% said AI will make a positive impact on the market

We’ve looked before at the reasons why researchers have reason to be optimistic about AI, but the key points are about listening at scale, removing human biases, and cutting down menial work.

And if you can keep artificial intelligence focused on the more menial side of data collection and analysis, you can add on human intelligence and allow people to carve out a role for themselves focused on high-value work - centred on action and impact, not collecting or analyzing data.

As Stan said in his talk: “Where artificial intelligence meets human intelligence, augmented intelligence is born.”

And as our co-founder Jared Smith said in his X4 keynote, anyone who believes AI is a total risk hasn’t cleansed data before. He’d happily leave it that job to robots.

If technology frees up more of market researchers time, what do people do with it?

The obvious follow-up question to using more technology is what do insights teams do with all that spare time?

People have quite polarized reactions to this too: some focus on the positive and think they can do more meaningful work. On the other hand, some people suddenly see a gap in their daily routine and feel anxious.

It’s important that business leaders recognize that anxiety and don’t assume that free time will automatically trigger people’s creative sides. They need to ensure employees have the tools and support system to generate and develop ideas. From the top down, a culture change needs to happen, making people more creative and energetic.

However, without burdensome tasks, insights teams are also freed up for meaningful interactions with customers. For example, Unilever run 1-to-1 interviews with many customers over video, allowing them to speak to a global audience and gather X-data to supplement its other data sources.

Lots of ideas, not enough budget - what’s the solution?

Once you’ve freed up many more people to generate ideas off the back of data, the next question is: how can you possibly assess them all and implement only the best? With research budgets shrinking all across the world, it’s just as possible a brand can find itself drowning in millions of ideas rather than millions of data points.

During his talk at X4, Stan spoke about how Unilever is relying on its employees to review and prioritize new ideas, allowing people to up or downvote ideas through an app. This democratization of product development takes a lot of pressure off of research teams to assess and prioritize any new idea.

This gamification of the brainstorming process helps ensure you don’t just go from ‘too much data, to too many ideas’.


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Topics X4 Summit

Daniel Saunders

Daniel heads up content production in Europe. As part of his role, he gets the chance to work with some of our biggest customers in the region to showcase how they’re delivering breakthrough experiences to customers and employees.

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