Successful customer-centric companies have ‘insights engines’


If customer-centricity is the new metric for organisational success, a new study has revealed what a company’s insights team needs to look like in order to make this happen. The Insights 2020 study by global consultancy Kantar Vermeer highlights the evolution of internal insights teams from being part of marketing to becoming an ‘insight engine’ within an organisation. An insight engine has particular ‘alchemy’ of capabilities that were found to be the key differentiator for customer-centric growth across 10,000 companies. Organisations that possess these capabilities (and that ahve obviously proved their worth) have the ear of the CEO twice as often as other functions. Key to these teams success was having independence as a function with direct reporting into executive level.  Another KEY capability of these front and centre, empowered and valued insights functions in customer-centric organisations is data. Not just lots of it, but organised, clean, useable, searchable – and sharable. This combination seems to me to lead to the customer having a voice at the table and not just locked away in market research insights reports kept in particular parts of an organisation. Love it!

Harvard Business Review picked up on the Kantar Vermeer study and uses Unilever as a case study for how its working and to do it. Have a read 🙂

A few key points about “successful insights engines” for those short on time. HBR identifies 10 characteristics of  these ‘superior’, strategic insight teams which can be grouped into Operational and People characteristics:


  • Data – making sense of it and extracting value
  • Independence – sit outside marketing (its traditional home) and report in to C-suite
  • Integrated planning – being involved in where to play and how to win strategic conversations within the business
  • Collaboration – with customers and other areas with the business (evolving from being an effective service provider to shared goals and partnerships)
  • Experimentation – embrace a culture of experimentation such as hackathons, mentoring programs with startups and collaboration platforms and Shark Tank like pitching of ideas to execs
  • Forward-looking orientation – less focus on history to predict future performance and more focus on real-time
  • Affinity for action – focus as much on strategy as on data and who they recruit


  • Whole-brain mindset – recruiting and consciously supporting holistic, creative, right-brain skills as well the more traditional, (and organisationally familiar), left-brain thinking to move away from default thinking and gather multiple perspectives (and strengths)
  • Business focus – programs to build business acumen, linking staff bonuses to business performance
  • Storytelling – constructing a message through engaging, even provocative, narratives

The article concludes:

Much of what insights engines at any firm do is gather and analyze data. But today that is the minimum needed for success. Being able to translate this capability into customer-centric growth is what distinguishes winners from losers.

I’d add that your insights engine doesn’t need to just analyse data and translate into growth, but also internal insight teams need to know what and how to research otherwise the data just won’t be there to achieve those important strategic insights.


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