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November 18, 2021

Imagination is more than artistic flair or aesthetic virtuosity. It is a way of working built from the ground up, with a set of structures, processes, and practices that enable business leaders to apprehend, understand and react to the marketplace in smarter, more original, and more impactful ways. Business leaders know that they need more of this way of working, and they want their Insights functions to be the spark that will steward it forward, ensure its integrity, and put it into action.

Imagination is the overarching takeaway from Insights 2030, Kantar’s in-depth investigation of the future of Insights. Supported by an advisory board of industry organisations and leading companies, including primary sponsor and collaborator, Colgate-Palmolive, Kantar’s work for Insights 2030 entailed hundreds of one-on-one interviews with business leaders around the world, as well as a global survey among more than 1,700 senior business and Insights leaders.

Imagination is a core competency for success. Imagination is something business leaders rely on every day when they put themselves in their customers’ shoes, or when they think anew about accelerating growth in their categories, or when they choose one direction over another for innovation, advertising, and purpose. Kantar work has demonstrated consistently over the years that imagination is the foundation for growth. Future success will require that business leaders significantly dial up their competency in and commitment to imagination.

More volatility and uncertainty lie ahead. Disruptions are the new normal: increasingly, discontinuities will be a feature of the marketplace, not the exception. The stability of the past, often referred to by economists as the Great Moderation, is in the rear view mirror. Disruptions will unlock enormous new opportunities, but they will also challenge existing operating and business models. So, new approaches will be required, which makes imagination more important. To meet this challenge, business leaders expect Insights to step up to a leadership role premised on a new way of working.
EMPACT from Insights

Three themes emerged from Insights 2030: empathy, provocation and activation, or the shorthand acronym EMPACT (for EMpathy, Provocation, ACTivation).

Empathy is the foundation.

Future success necessitates a deeper understanding of the journey of people’s lives, not just more data about the shopper journey. The era of Big Data arrived several years ago with the promise of ever-more specificity about consumers in the marketplace. That promise has been fulfilled, but business leaders worry that the human experience of the person at the centre has been lost in the haystack of data and information. With disruption added to the mix, senior leaders believe that big ideas are needed to get full value from Big Data. Thus, the premium on empathy.

Provocation is next.

One of the most frequent complaints expressed by senior business leaders in Insights 2030 was that Insights teams talk only about the data, not about what is best for the business. In the words of one, “Insights is traditionally quite comfortable stating 'research says’ or ‘data show.’ This passes the responsibility to others. There is a need to express an opinion beyond what the research says – giving conclusions, implications and recommendations.” Senior business leaders are unequivocal that Insights leaders must be full-throated participants in the business.

Activation brings it all together.

Much has been made in recent years about Insights functions telling credible and compelling stories about consumers. But in the Insights 2030 interviews, business leaders were clear that they wanted stories tied to activation. Insights must do more than connect the dots for strategy. Insights must carry a richer view of the marketplace into action.

EMPACT from Imagination

The analysis of Insights 2030 operationalised imagination as a set of specific things to do. Unsurprisingly, customer-centricity was found to be the foundation of success.

Organisationally, it means making customer data central to everything.

But there are two ways to pursue customer-centricity. Doing so with imagination is the spark the gets the most from customer-centricity. It is a future-oriented focus that brings the human experience to the centre. Organisationally, it means making the human story central to everything.

Among companies with a primary emphasis on customer-centricity but less on imagination, 68 percent out-performed competition. Among companies high on both customer-centricity and imagination, 87 percent out-performed competition. Imagination is a multiplier – the 19-percentage point jump from 68 percent to 87 percent is a multiplier difference of 28 percent.

Kantar’s Insights 2030 work is clear. The future of Insights is a stronger nucleus of customer-centricity that is supercharged and animated anew by the structures, processes and practices of empathy, provocation, and activation. In this manner, Insights can reenergise the ways in which corporate leaders apprehend and envision the marketplace of tomorrow. This is the imperative of imagination.

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