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What is Strategic Thinking?

Posted on  27 January 14  by 


Improve Strategic ThinkingStrategy is currently a big buzz-word. Businesses and leaders are talking about it and numerous blogs are written on the topic every day. Feeling left out? Here’s how you can be strategic too. Writing in HBR, Liane Davey breaks down the meaning of being ‘strategic’. Here is my interpretation.

  1. Undertaking decisions in context of the organization’s broader goals: While this might be as complicated as launching a new product to a simpler one like researching a specific market, ask why the decision matters and what does it achieve in the long term.
  2. Discussing complex scenarios with experts: As much as the internet has empowered us, there is no substitute for an expert opinion. Speak with people that have worked on the areas you are looking for an answer.
  3. Making decisions based on reflections rather than reflex: Our natural reaction is to base decisions based on precedents- a reflexive action. But markets may have changed since then, and you might need to make a different decision.
  4. Connecting ideas to people: We tend to stick with our own team, but some ideas are best delegated to other business units or teams that have better bandwidth and more visibility.
  5. Making real choices: All projects are not created equal. Decide which ones are worth doing, and which ones need to be refused. You get more credibility by refusing the unworthy.

We have tools to empower you to be more strategic. CEB Market Insights members can use Johnson & Johnson’s Uncertainties Focused Business Planning Framework and Lilly’s IWIK-focused Research Scoping Process to uncover true business need. Assess and choose projects using Deere’s Research Request Evaluation Process.

Evolve From Embarrassing Communication of Years Past

Posted on  21 January 14  by 


The New York Times recently debuted an upgraded website design, its most ambitious change in several years. The announcement included snapshots of previous iterations of the site, and I was struck by the dated appearance of pages from only a few years ago. Web design has certainly come a long way since the early days of the Internet, and archives like the Way Back Machine are filled with plenty of cringe-worthy examples.

Looking back at the history of CEB’s own web presence, our site has gotten simpler and sleeker, and we’ve hopefully made it easier to find the information our members are looking for.

November 2001

November 2001

June 2005

June 2005

January 2014

January 2014

Market Insights professionals understand the importance of clear communication and making sure our message gets across. We of course support our colleagues in Marketing in their communication with customers, but we also need to communicate effectively with our own partners in the business.

Much like the New York Times redesigned its website with user needs in mind, Market Insights should cater to the learning needs of its stakeholders. Levi Strauss examines constituents’ personal learning styles and Johnson Controls uses a variety of channels to drive key learnings throughout the organization.

CEB Market Insights members, you can browse through our Communications Toolkit to find the best ways to communicate with business partners. And if you’re feeling nostalgic, check out what these popular sites looked like when they launched.

Avoid these 8 Confidence Killers

Posted on  14 January 14  by 


Businessman and businesswoman lined up getting ready for race in businessHarvard University professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter recently reminded blog readers that confidence isn’t a personality trait; it’s the expectation of a positive outcome, “an assessment of a situation that sparks motivation.”  As I worry in shock that we are already halfway through January, this point really resonated with me, and got me thinking about the importance confidence has in our day-to-day jobs.

Many of the skills needed to truly embed insights throughout the organization rely on confidence: diagnosing and framing the right-level problem (what the business partner needs, not necessarily what they want); offering a thoughtful point of view, even when it does not support the status quo or conventional wisdom; delving into existing work to create new insights to impact and guide the business.

To help rally your confidence to tackle 2014 head-on, Professor Kantor compiled a list of 8 barriers to confidence: mental traps to avoid as you make your way through your work days:

  1. Self-defeating assumptions: kind of the opposite of The Little Engine that Could, don’t give up because you assume things aren’t going to end well.  You know what they say, when you make a (negative) assumption, you make an…
  2. “Big hairy audacious goals”: the gap between current reality and a giant goal can be a depressing de-motivator.  The way to boost confidence is with repeated, small wins.
  3. Premature victory declaration: while small wins are great, make sure interim success doesn’t derail progress to your overall goal.  Don’t get ahead of yourself!
  4. Going-it alone: confidence boosts when you’re working with the team.  Focusing too much on your own can leave you out-to-dry when you need support the most.
  5. The blame game: as Professor Kantor says, “Confidence is the art of moving on.”
  6. Defensiveness: while you need to take responsibility for mistakes, it’s self-defeating to answer critics who haven’t criticized yet.
  7. Blind optimism:  to be optimistic you have to believe that things will turn out right, not think that you won’t hit any potholes or roadblocks along the way.
  8. Over-confidence: again, I’ll let Professor Kantor say it best: “Confidence is a sweet spot between despair and arrogance.”

Do you have strategies to get you rallied behind your 2014 objectives?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

Keeping Up in the New Era of Analytics

Posted on  14 January 14  by 


NumbersAnalytics has come a long way since the term “big data” was first coined. In the eyes of the consumer, the most visible examples of analytics in action have actually come from small data applications. This year’s CES tradeshow saw tech companies placing large bets on the market potential for wearable technology, including products capable of tracking and analyzing personal metrics like heart rate and physical activity. Customers accustomed to Amazon and Netflix recommendations engines now expect, perhaps unreasonably, the same treatment from every other e-commerce/media site.

Of course, these examples of consumer success don’t mean that companies have got it all figured out. We are now entering an era where every company has the ability to make use of the data they’re collecting anyway, and will soon need to do something with it just to match expectations for data-enriched product offerings and operating efficiency. With these sky-high expectations, the question now is what will companies do to meet them?

As our previous research has demonstrated, Market Insights’ business partners are feeling this urgency to incorporate data analytics into decision making. Their increased demand for analytics has subsequently marginalized the demand for traditional, primary market research. As a result, there’s increasing pressure on market insights teams to solve the puzzle of finding and using multiple sources of data to drive insight generation.

HBR’s December 2013 article entitled “Analytics 3.0” summarizes 10 requirements companies need to address to capitalize on this new era of analytics. Here are the three that stood out to us as especially relevant for market insights professionals:

  • Multiple types of data, often combined: Successfully integrating structured and unstructured, large and small, and internal and external sources of data, is the next holy grail in analytics. Today, many market insights teams are still figuring out how to build relationships and work cross-functionally with outside groups that own and govern different datasets.
  • Chief analytics officers: Some companies, such as AIG and FICO, have taken analytics management to the C-suite level.  While these firms remain in the minority, sources of customer information within a company are increasingly being housed under the same roof, whether it’s alongside or underneath Market Insights. However the structure looks, heads of Insights will need to figure out how to seamlessly integrate Market Insights with Analytics and keep shared goals in mind.
    • CEB Market Insights members: See our Analytics 360 topic center page for examples of how analytics groups are structured in relation to market insights functions.
  • Cross-disciplinary data teams: More and more insights teams are looking for data scientists with broad skillsets – the ability to work with IT, deal with large volumes of data, model and visualize data, and demonstrate enough business savvy to extract insights relevant to the organization. Whether it makes sense for Market Insights to hire for a single individual with all these skills is still up for debate, but there is no doubt that advanced statistical and modeling skills are increasingly necessary.

Over the coming months, we’ll be working on our 2014 Annual Executive Retreat study on mastering multi-source synthesis, a continuation of our 2012 study. We’re looking forward to getting some answers for folks who are seeking to better integrate and synthesize multiple, disparate data sources.

Interested in this topic? Do any of these challenges resonate with you? We’d love to hear from you! Please email Doris Jwo at

Related Blogs:

The Rightful Owner of Social Media Is…

This week’s guest post comes from our colleague Dan O’Keefe O’Donovan of the CEB Communications Leadership Council.

Here’s a question we get asked a lot: which corporate function should own social media?

It might be Corp. Comms. Or it might be marketing. But hold on – IT probably has a hand in it. And legal (our perennial best friends) have probably got some red tape to slap all over it. Then it’s also likely that any customer-facing functions (sales, customer contact, market insights) will have their fingers in the pie as well…

So what’s the answer? Who SHOULD own social media?

The truth is, there are no hard and fast rules. The image below shows that at different companies, different functions will play different roles, depending on the nature of their business and individual circumstances.

Cross-Functional Social Media Involvement

Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen Spoil the Broth

Many functions have a role to play, which means that the bigger question is this: with so many cooks in the kitchen, how can we be sure that tasks related to social media don’t slip through the cracks?

Here are just some of the tasks that need to be done:

  • Determine a social media strategy
  • Identify opportunities for new accounts
  • Approve creation of new accounts
  • Write social media policies
  • Communicate policies
  • Monitor use and ensure compliance with policies
  • Train account owners
  • Provide ongoing guidance to account owners
  • Source new content ideas
  • Approve content
  • Facilitate best practice sharing across account owners
  • Monitor use by account owners
  • …and so on

Who owns these activities at your company? Are you sure you’ve got them all covered? With so many players in the game, there’s a danger that Communications presumes that Legal has policies covered, Marketing presumes that Comms is training account owners… and while everyone looks expectantly at each other, key tasks don’t get done.

Make Responsibilities, Resourcing, and Accountability Explicit

In actual fact, the key question isn’t so much about WHO owns which tasks. In many cases, the real challenge is providing the right setting for divvying up responsibilities and working together to ensure that key tasks don’t get missed.

- Thatcher & Company has a cross-functional committee, whereby all tasks related to information management (including social media) are explicitly allocated to specific functions. In some instances, functions will jointly own specific activities (e.g. Communications partners with legal to build a training & awareness program).  CEB Communications members can read more about the case here.

- Hallmark created a team—the Social Media Working Group—to oversee social media efforts and build the firm’s institutional knowledge. In addition to these cross-functional representatives, staff passionate about social media were invited to join to co-create best practice tools, which are stored on the corporate intranet.  CEB Marketing members, access the details here.

Additional resources:

CEB Market Insights members, visit our resources about online communities and social media:

Related blogs:

Counterintuitive Coffee Fact of the Day

Posted on  7 January 14  by 

Comment (2)

When to Drink Your CoffeeNeed a startling factiod to get your business partners’ attention?  Steven Miller, a Ph.D. candidate at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, recently compiled some interesting information on the best time to drink coffee, and the answer may surprise you.

Given circadian rhythms and cortisol production, caffeine will have maximum impact between 9:30 and 11:30 in the morning, not immediately when you get to work between 8:00 and 9:00.  First thing in the morning your body is creating its own natural energy, so a chemical pick-me-up at that time will do nothing but build your body’s tolerance without giving you the boost of a needed benefit.  Delay your coffee break by about an hour, and you can reap the full benefit of its caffeinated goodness.

Feel free to add this interesting tidbit to the other interest-provoking quotes and statistics for your presentations.  We have done the research, and know that to embed your insights throughout the organization you need to engineer learning moments: use learning experiences to correct executives’ overconfidence and misconceptions.

Related Blogs:

3 Keys to Effective Communication

Posted on  7 January 14  by 


In a recent HBR blog, Jim Dougherty, a professor at MIT Sloan School of Business, states that establishing trust with co-workers should be a top priority. He advocates one-on-one and group meeting with as many people as possible to build trust and understand what is really going on within the business and the market. We at CEB agree, but realize that building trust also means effective communication with all stakeholders. And here are 3 keys to keep in mind:

  1. Communicating multiple times in multiple formats: Use multiple teaching occasions and different communications vehicles to communicate information, ideas and thought starters.
  2. Unplanned and informal communication opportunities: While planned conversations are important, more trust is built on informal ones which is a powerful tool for communication.
  3. Flexing social styles in communication: Interpersonal information exchange depends on social styles. Flexing our own style to the information receiver’s style creates a smoother exchange of ideas.

CEB Market Insights members can access details of PepsiCo’s “Seven times, Seven ways” methodology and CEB’s Informal Communications framework.  They can also access CEB’s stakeholder influencing guide that provides step by step instructions on influencing stakeholders.

The Losing Battle with Information Overload

Our group has done quite a bit of research to understand the effect of “data smog” and “information glut” on business decisions. Instinctively, one would think that having access to more inputs would improve the caliber of decision making but our work on the role of Insights in a Big Data world  reveals that this is indeed not the case (take a look at page 12 of the brief for some interesting ‘data user’ profiles that were created by our IT practice).

Not only is there more information out there than ever before, the way we access and consume it has completely changed.  In The Shallows: What Internet Is Doing to Our Brain, Nicolas Carr looks at how online access has affected our ability to digest, process, and internalize information. He argues that, “while we are becoming ever more adept at scanning and skimming, we are losing our capacity for concentration, contemplation, and reflection.” In the book Carr expands on a fundamental concern that he expressed in his 2008 article: The internet is impacting our ability to read and think deeply; it’s ultimately, in his words, making us stupider.  If you haven’t already, make sure to check out his book. It’s absolutely worth the read.

So what does this mean for us in the profession?  We increasingly hear from our members how hard it is to be heard in the information saturated environment we are part of. Our recent study on Embedding Customer Knowledge reveals that Research is one of the lowest sources on the totem pole when you look at all of the inputs that inform customer related decision making comparatively (page 14 of pdf).  One head of insights went so far as to say that business partners, “look at our work the same way they look at Tweets” in a recent conversation with our team.

But what can we do about it?  How do we improve mindshare in an environment with such limited mental real estate?  Start with the Council sponsored events and resources below:

  • It’s time to get creative!  More strategic insights and recommendations demand methods of delivery that we may be unfamiliar or uncomfortable with, things like: immersion learning or interest provoking tactics.  Our new Communications Toolkit explores these tactics among others as well as the considerations you would need to make to implement within your own organization.
  • Many of you have heard the term TLDR or ‘Too Long, Didn’t Read’.  Avoid common communication pitfalls like TLDR by tapping into the Council’s communication skill development resources to increase the impact of communications your team creates by tailoring content to stakeholder needs and learning how to sync information flow with decision making cycles.
  • Take advantage of upcoming training sessions to improve Influence Skills on your team and learn about the stakeholder planning and resource allocation that is required to Activate Disruptive Insights.

Define your Mission for 2014

Posted on  24 December 13  by 


Define Your MissionWhat do you try to accomplish at work each day? How do you judge your team’s success? How should the market insights function contribute to the company? In our 2013 Resource and Organizational Benchmarking survey, we asked respondents to “indicate the primary role the market insights team plays for the business it supports.” It was tough for many of our members to choose just one role, but the most popular choice was “Voice of the consumer and the marketplace.” Runners-up included “Strategic thought partner,” “Ongoing consultant to the business,” and “Decision support provider.”

Many of these roles appear in our consensus vision statement to reflect the purpose of the market insights function. There is a lot of variety in the sample mission statements we collected from our members, but a constant theme is the goal of driving growth through customer understanding. An article in Forbes offers additional guidance in crafting the perfect mission statement:

  1. Make it distinctive and meaningful.
  2. It should be simple, not simplistic.
  3. Make an emotional connection.
  4. Communicate it consistently.
  5. Act on it.

As you think about acting on your mission statement, learn how other functions have ensured that Market Insights is a true partner in the business. And, if you’d like to share your team’s mission statement, you can do so here.

Insight Zombies

Posted on  23 December 13  by 


Insight GraveyardAfter years (millennia?) of playing second fiddle to vampires, zombies are basking in the spotlight of popular culture. The fourth season premiere episode of AMC’s hit show, The Walking Dead, had a record setting 16.1 million viewers and the CDC used the threat of an impending zombie apocalypse to encourage preparedness for slightly more likely disasters.

If you’ll bear with me through this analogy, most market insights functions have a long list of “dead” insights that were never acted on. Rather than letting those great ideas go to waste, the team at Monsanto has regular review sessions where they unleash the potential of inactive insights by assessing their relevance to current business issues. They bring those insight zombies back to life.

Timing, as they say, is everything, and even the best insights need to be tied to opportunities for action. Monsanto uses a Prioritized Insight Re-Introduction Process to classify insights into four categories according to changes in business priorities and bandwidth:

  • Present Again
  • Share as Appropriate
  • Keep in Repository
  • Dismiss

Growth-driving insights that would otherwise have lain dormant are successfully activated by the business after reintroduction. CEB Market Insights members, learn about other strategies for activating disruptive insights. CEB Iconoculture members, check out how the zombie trend might apply to your business here.