From instinct to insight: The game changer in business strategy

Recently, I traveled to New York to attend a market research conference. It spanned two intense days, with several sessions focused on leveraging research to optimize a brand's performance in the market.

I attended not only to learn but also to support our Head of Strategy, Brian Gee, as he presented a practical guide to implementing AI in your research workflow.

I've been privileged to have a front-row seat to sophisticated research methodologies and have come to appreciate the value of turning research into actionable insights.

However, as an entrepreneur whose instincts have thus far been a reliable compass, it required time for me to fully comprehend the potency of formal research.

I have a knack for connecting the dots between identifying a business need and forming a hypothesis to address it. This process usually starts as a faint spark of insight that surfaces just above my subconscious. The spark is nurtured by various bits of information and observations, perhaps triggered by an article in The Wall Street Journal or Forbes.

Over time, this spark of insight evolves into a comprehensive plan of action.

This methodology hasn't been confined to our clients' businesses; it has served as the bedrock for my own enterprise. Identifying a market gap and crafting a business plan to address it has always been more of an intuitive decision, less dependent on data. At most, I would conduct a SWOT analysis to understand my environment. But even then, my institutional knowledge played a significant role.

This approach isn't without its shortcomings. It's sporadic, reliant solely on my experience and information I gather, which was undeniably biased, and it offers only a limited perspective of the market. There's an ever-present risk of misunderstanding the evolving market or failing to comprehend the needs of a target audience, there's a heightened risk of being wrong.

This is where robust, reliable and quantifiable market research makes its entry.

Business challenges don't usually afford the luxury of time for insights to evolve organically. Sometimes there are just a few weeks to confront a threat or capitalize on an opportunity. The market research tools we have today are astonishing - they are underpinned by proven scientific principles, technologically advanced, and can fast-track market solutions.

The benefits are abundant. Not only do these solutions provide actionable data, but they also eliminate many bureaucratic obstacles that often hinder the progression of a promising idea within a client's organization. At Simon/Myers, one of our preferred tools is semi-structured interviews (SSIs), appreciated for the collaborative input they foster. They enable multiple stakeholders to contribute to the process, instilling a sense of ownership over the results, which aligns with client interests.

Now, let's delve into the results of research. The power of data-driven insights in decision-making lies in their capacity to remove subjectivity and reveal previously undiscovered truths. Whether it's mapping out a customer's purchasing journey, identifying a new or emerging audience, or finding whitespace in a commoditized market, we are able to address a multitude of client questions through original research.

In 2019, S/M decided to scrutinize our own positioning as we expanded our digital capabilities. We had numerous theories about our direction and approach, but much of the information we possessed was conflicting. The problem was sufficiently complex, and the risk was high enough that venturing down a path without directional data would have been reckless.

So that same year, and again in 2021, we practiced what we preached and initiated a qualitative study to understand our clients' perceptions of our agency and the factors they consider when choosing a new agency. This foundational data has since guided our positioning, marketing, and sales decisions.

Though I still affirm the importance of trusting one's instincts, I've become a believer in the power of data-informed insights to enhance, clarify and expedite business decisions.

I urge all entrepreneurs and business professionals to embrace this potent combination of instinct and insights. Harnessing these two powerful forces can catalyze decision-making processes, provide crucial direction, and contribute to the overall strength and success of any venture.

• Lou Simon is the Principal/Founder of Simon/Myers, a marketing agency with offices in Wheaton and Chicago.

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