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The ongoing impact of COVID means the world of work is facing one of the longest and most profound periods of upheaval ever.

While that’s undoubtedly true, every cloud has a silver lining – in this case the chance for organizations to move analysis in-house and take ownership of audience research like never before. That’s not to dismiss the very real pain COVID has caused, simply to say that the best way out of this mess is to find light in the darkness.

Recently we took a close look at why brands are moving audience research in-house. Now, in this companion blog, we’ll see how in-housing can be the key to improving ROI.

The changing consumer mindset

Before delving into how brands are benefiting from in-house audience research, it’s important to understand why many are making the leap.

Our guide to brand survival in the new consumer landscape describes a series of seismic shifts in consumer behavior, attitudes and perceptions.

Allow us to summarize:

These stats are deliberately wide-ranging, highlighting the fact that no matter what sector a brand is in, the waves of change will almost certainly have an impact. 

As well as being far-reaching, these changes are happening fast. To succeed,  businesses need to become more agile, bringing new products to market and reacting to (or better still, anticipating) shifts in attitudes and behaviour at top speed. 

It’s this – along with the thorny issue of budget pressure – that’s driving in-housing. 

Moving insight access in-house enables brands to align closely with their audiences, while saving time and money.

That’s a quick sketch of why in-housing is happening; now let’s look at the benefits it delivers. 

1. Speed up the audience research process.

Generating good research shouldn’t take forever. In these changeable times, instant access to consumer insights via in-house research means brands can find what they need, when they need it, to support more strategic decision making.

Imagine a social movement is unfolding fast, with your target market heavily invested in its success. 

Calling your agency for appropriate insights is certainly an option, but it’s a slow process, adding extra steps that’ll delay your response and lessen its impact. Luckily there’s a better way:

Putting insights closer to the in-house decision makers means you can move “at the speed of trends”, sidestepping any back-and-forth with your external agencies and getting data-led campaigns up and running in less time.

In this model, time-consuming research is replaced by a just-in-time approach, delivering insights exactly when they’re needed. For researchers and marketers used to regular Google Analytics updates and hourly social listening bulletins, this responsive approach makes perfect sense, finally putting the consumer research cycle in sync with other data sources.

2. Minimize risk with data-led budgeting.

Many marketing departments are feeling the heat as bosses pressure them to deliver against demanding targets and prove ROI on every campaign.

Strategy is a big part of improving ROI. But not just any strategy – it has to be data-driven to really deliver. And that’s where in-house insight really scores.

With the facts at their fingertips, marketers can go straight to the right channels, avoiding the risk and waste of trialing different approaches at various stages of the customer journey.

In short, insight should steer investment – that’s the key to effective budget allocation. Basing spending decisions on facts not feelings sounds obvious – because it is obvious – but it’s often forgotten. 

In contrast, an insight-led approach means no trade-offs or concessions, and instead makes it possible to get things right the first time, every time.

3. Own the purchase journey from start to finish.

Brands often say they’d like a clearer view of how their agencies operate, in terms of both the processes they follow and the work they produce.

That’s especially true when it comes to consumer data and insight. Too often brands get second-hand knowledge of their target consumers, drawn from a mishmash of sources and analysed by a mix of methodologies. The result makes it hard to join the dots and build a holistic audience understanding across the business.

In contrast, having global and local consumer data, collected using the same trusted methodology and available on-tap from in-house researchers is worth its weight in gold.

For example, imagine you want to generate hype in your core U.S. market.

In this situation, collecting data on how and where your audience normally hears about new products and services lays the foundations for your content and media strategy.

You can then build out your audience in detail, pinpointing exactly how and where they’d be most likely to discover and research your brand.

With the right data it’s far easier to shape a purchase journey that reflects exactly what audiences need at each stage, without the need for outside help.

Owning the process in this way puts control back in the hands of marketing teams, which makes complete sense as it’s their job to understand exactly what works and why.

4. Delivers the best of both worlds with hybrid working.

For too long, marketing teams have used external agencies to cover pretty much everything they lack in terms of research resources or expertise.

Take media planning. It’s a fundamental part of marketing, yet it’s often left in the hands of external teams.

But if internal teams have access to the right insights to tell them which channels, tactics and methods to invest in, the need for third party help changes in nature.

With the fundamentals taken care of internally, brands are free to hire highly specialized agencies that can propel their offer to the next level.

Ultimately this is about saving money by conducting research in-house where it makes sense to do so, and spending it wisely on expert help when appropriate, giving brands a far better return overall.

What I’m describing is essentially a hybrid, or best-of-both-worlds, approach, with leadership and straightforward tasks handled internally, and specialist skills provided externally, all on a case-by-case basis.

5. Get more done in less time thanks to optimization.

Bringing research resources in-house means marketers can work more efficiently.

Instead of having to wait for performance reports from external agencies and agree on new strategies or approaches, they can tweak and optimize their activity on the hoof to fit the audiences they’re targeting.

In the field of influencer marketing, for example, staying on top of fast-moving trends among specific target segments is essential when it comes to understanding whether a particular approach will work.

By regularly exploring their audiences’ interests, how they discover brands, what celebrities they engage with and so on, brands will know exactly what to tap into, and how, reducing the need for guesswork.

6. Put meaningful insight in the hands of everyone in your business.

Making sure your organization is truly data-driven starts with choosing the right tools for the job. That’s why one of the key ideas driving the development of GWI’s new platform was the desire to create a “platform for everyone”. 

Making the process of conducting professional-quality research much easier for non-experts massively benefits any brand thinking of moving their research function in-house. 

It’s an important step toward seamless working, allowing teams to test their ideas and thinking against authoritative data.

Saved from the time-consuming process of briefing an external agency and waiting for a response, your people can get digging themselves in a way that really supports a process of iterative thinking around issues like personas.

Bottom line? Equipping your teams with a simple, powerful tool to access data dynamically as and when it’s needed makes in-housing a realistic proposition.

In-housing: an idea whose time has come

Consumers are adapting to changes so fast that brands are struggling to keep up. And for many, relying on external agencies to take care of all their audience research feels like the easy option.

Wishing no disrespect to the agency community, that’s a mistake. With the world as it is, relying on third parties for audience insights could mean missing out on key opportunities, promoting the wrong messages or wasting time and money when every penny counts. 

In contrast, bringing research in-house addresses all these issues, showing that creating great research can be fast and effective.

In fact it’s never been more important to know exactly who your audience are and what they want. When they’re constantly changing their behavior and mindset (and spending) it pays to be the first to hear, for the simple reason that in business, better consumer knowledge means better everything. 

Report Connecting the dots in 2021 Download now

Written by

Sandy is Head of Consumer Products at GWI. Sandy has long experience in global marketing strategy and especially in the use of consumer data to inform better business decisions. His career spans a number of roles consulting with world’s biggest consumer goods companies on strategic projects from segmentation and loyalty to new market development and ecommerce optimization.

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