Matt Bell-Watson • 19 May 2021
Recently, we spoke with Onika Simon from the global research agency, Studio Into about Covid’s impact on international research. As part of our conversation, we touched on the interesting concept of contextual insight.
In this follow-up interview, we explore the role that contextual insight can play in helping businesses improve audience understanding and inform decision making.
What is contextual insight and how can it help brands to better understand audiences?
Our core belief as a business is that behaviours, attitudes and observable actions are not insights by themselves. It’s the context that makes information insightful. That’s what a lot of brands and businesses miss.
The context around behaviour or attitudes – the reason why you’re seeing or hearing things. We are very mindful when we conduct research to make sure that we are exploring and illuminating the context for the client. Cultural insight is one form of context, looking at the cultural or market context that makes behaviour special.
Another way is to look at the category context. A product can be well-loved or have a loyal following because it’s in a category where the competitors are weak. But what we’ve seen over the last 12 months is that there are a lot of products that have completely different competitive sets now.
For instance, if you think about the average dining table, you’d usually put a ketchup bottle, plates, cutlery on it for dining. The average dining table is now a school desk, a work desk and an ironing board. The convergence of products and brands and uses of the average dining table has exploded in the last 12 months and that has obvious implications for how all of those products and brands need to potentially improve.
That feeds into the design, marketing, communications, packaging, everything. If the usage occasion around your product has changed, there’s always an opportunity to do something new. Whether it’s a new skew, a slight tweak or a change in communications to acknowledge what’s happening. There’s always an opportunity to improve.
And the last kind of context that we think about most often is the consumer context. What’s changed in the consumer’s lives that might impact how they feel about your brand or your product? That’s the big one this year when everyone is tired and frustrated and overwhelmed. That’s been a really big factor to explore.
How can contextual insight help B2B businesses engage niche audiences more effectively?
Ultimately what we’re trying to do is help people and businesses to understand the client. We’re helping brands and businesses to grow. So, we’re always trying to provide a perspective that’s personal and individual, but it’s easy to scale up and look at the systems that are happening.
The thing about contextual insight is it’s never just about a pattern of behaviour, an attitude or a trend. It’s never just about people. It’s always about how people are interacting with systems. Having that perspective has enabled a lot of our B2B clients to see things more clearly.
There is this obsession with data and customer-centricity, which is a good thing to aim for, but at the end of the day, we’re a qualitative research agency, but we’re not just about people. We’re showing businesses how the world works in a particular market or kind of household. So, the short answer is that contextual insights are not just about people, they’re about how people interact with systems.
As part of understanding context, how much do you focus on exploring your client’s businesses?
That’s a really big part of my role. It’s fascinating to look inside client’s organisations. We look at the stakeholders, how do all of the different teams interact with each other, how do all of the functions work together, operationally and logistically, how are they saving files or sharing information?
It can get overwhelming sometimes because it’s a lot of detail, but if you can take a step back to look at any business to see if things are flowing as they’re supposed to. Is information, goodwill, power and leadership flowing as they should? And if it’s not, how can we fix it so that our research is actionable?
How often do the internal barriers or siloes impact how businesses use research?
Something we try to sniff out before the research takes place is how ready is the business to action research? We don’t want to do research and generate reports that sit on a shelf and get dusty.
We do research for decision making, so before we conduct the research, we need to understand what decisions our answers are going to influence. That invariably is a process that necessarily demands that leadership is engaged from the top-down. Who is making the decision and what’s going to influence their decision? Sometimes that feels a bit political, but that’s why we’re here.
We have to make sure that companies are potentially prepared to change direction if the insights tell them to. We try to avoid research that just confirms assumptions. We like to bring information to the table that provokes a discussion. We love working with businesses that are ready to move.