The key qualities of successful consumer insights professionals

Mar 8, 2022

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view,” wrote Harper Lee in her famous 1960s novel To Kill a Mockingbird. The desire to understand people is not unique to creatives. More and more people are spending hours between 9 and 5 focusing on that very thing: considering different people’s views. According to LinkedIn, approximately 15,000 women and 12,000 men are currently working in various consumer insights positions in the EU and the UK.

The profession itself had undergone significant transformation in the past few years. The importance of market research has become self-evident and companies want to make sure brands and products are developed based on real data. Old ‘market research analyst’ titles are being complemented by other titles, such as ‘innovation manager’, and ‘service designer’, to name a few. Because of new technology, consumer insights expertise is also being dispersed across the organisation into other roles. Companies now take ownership of their market research instead of outsourcing it.

Still, the essence of the job remains the same: to understand and connect with what consumers care about.

The co-founders of Cambri, Heli Holttinen and Outi Somervuori, have extensive experience in different consumer research roles. They believe that modern consumer insights professionals should always keep the purpose of their work in mind. “Market research is not about conducting the research and analysing the results – technology can do that for you. These positions are about making decisions based on the data,” Holttinen says.

She emphasises the importance of starting all research with a clear-cut business goal, making strategic thinking – the ability to connect consumer motivations to the company’s business goals – one of the essential qualities of consumer insights professionals.

“In the end, the job exists to make products and services better for the people using them,” Holttinen adds.

It is more important to know why and how to use the data than to gather the data.

Though customer-centricity has been a buzzword for marketers for several decades, it’s only now that technology can fully support rapid and iterative consumer research and concept testing without in-depth expertise. 

In addition to building their own insights teams, more and more companies empower and equip their product and brand teams to take an active role in gathering insights. For example, Nestlé encourages teams to use consumer research to support all business decisions.

Holttinen and Somervuori promote this kind of approach enthusiastically. “Every team should be able to run product development in an iterative test-and-learn manner and bring only relevant products and services to market,” Holttinen says.

However, this requires technology to help people in different positions run tests effectively. “Insights can’t be just another job on people’s already full schedules. Companies need to rethink their innovation processes and use modern technology to save time and energy and carry out high-quality consumer research,” Holttinen emphasises.

Tools like Cambri can be used as needed to run quick tests often. “The tests are so easy to create and the results easy to read that you don’t need to have an education in statistics to interpret them,” Somervuori explains. 

This brings us back to why consumer research exists in the first place: to support business decisions. “It is more important to know why and how to use the data than to gather the data,” Holttinen says. Each market research project should start by asking: What business decision are we going to make? What do we need to learn from our customers so that we can make an informed decision?

Consumer insights positions are power positions

While more and more product and brand teams are carrying out market research on their own, there is still a need for professionals specialising in consumer behaviour. At Nestlé, consumer insights specialists act as internal consultants to support other teams in their consumer research and concept testing needs. Since they are not doing all the research themselves, they can focus on more complex and demanding research projects that will inform company strategy.

Holttinen and Somervuori believe consumer insights specialists are moving up the ladder towards leadership positions.

Market research was traditionally something that companies were happy to outsource, but that also meant outsourcing the interpretation of the data. However, now that research is an in-house operation, insights specialists become key decision-makers.

“Market and consumer research positions are power positions,” Somervuori adds. Consumer insights specialists and innovation managers can consult the board on important decisions and help align the company strategy with what consumers really want. 

There is power in understanding people, and it seems this power is now being recognised across organisations.

Does consumer insights sound like a career for you?
Focus on these key characteristics:

  • Analytical thinking
  • Strategic  thinking
  • Ability to make business decisions 
  • Teamwork and leadership skills
  • Technology-driven
  • Curiosity