How to turn data into actionable insight

Posted on 20 September 2016 by Emily Stella

You work for a smart organisation that continuously gathers data about their customers. But are they making the most of it?

I had the opportunity to chat with VP of Research and Insights at Allegra Group Anya Marco. She helps the likes of Hotel Chocolat, Alpro and Compass Group understand their customers to make informed business decisions. Anya gave me her views on how to design effective surveys and gain valuable insight from the results.

So the next time you’re tasked with turning survey results into unmissable insight, you’ll be well equipped to do a stellar job.
Emily: What are the benefits of insight?
Anya: Insight shows that you understand the market, your customer and your customer’s customer. This positions you ahead of your competition and can help you win work.
For businesses, insight is absolutely critical for building their strategy. It helps them identify where the opportunities and challenges lie within their company, and tells them whether to narrow their marketing or broaden it to include other sectors or demographics.

Sometimes the biggest revelation is in who’s not using something. If you can understand the thinking behind your ‘rejectors’, you have a better chance of converting them. That’s how you build sales.

However, don’t assume that gathering data is enough to give you insight. While BT knows how many households have broadband and Nike knows how many shoes it sells – what you call ‘big data’ – these statistics aren’t helpful unless they can be applied to an outcome.
Emily: What’s the key to writing a good survey?
Anya: The only way to have good insight is to ask the right questions in the right order. You often find that analysis can bring more questions to the table and you end up wishing you’d asked this or that question. To minimise this, it’s important to know the main headlines you want to draw from the survey before you start writing – failing to do so, could leave you with data that doesn’t tell you anything meaningful.

My other piece of advice would be to get a really great brief from your client to understand what messages they want to extract from the findings.
Emily: How can you use data in headlines?
Anya: Start with the big hitters: you want to use data that has a significant majority or minority. What findings have challenged the status quo? What data is going to highlight you as an expert in this subject matter?

You can have a ground-breaking headline without using an actual statistic. Lots of people switch off when they see numbers, so lead with your key message. But, as always, keep your audience in mind. If they like numbers, then use them.

As a general rule, it’s a bad idea to use your data to bolster your position against your competitors. Remember that the British often root for the underdog, so you might find individuals choosing your competitor over you as a result.
Emily: More generally, how can you write about your survey findings for maximum effect?
Anya: Here are my top tips for writing about data:
1. Lead with your key message, not your data – the data should be there to support your claim.
2. Always have a ‘so-what’. This means you need to tell your reader what the difference is between knowing and not knowing this piece of information. It’s the so-what that makes the insight actionable.
3. Avoid any findings that are vague. For example, if you have a statement where you’re asked to agree or disagree, and one third of the sample agrees, one third disagrees and one third says they don’t know, the question hasn’t been answered and should be excluded from your study. You need a majority for something to hold any value.
4. Always talk about your percentages in order of highest to lowest value.
Emily: Have you got any final advice?
Anya: If you’ve got insight on a subject, you’re an instant expert. So when you next run a survey, take the opportunity to tell people about your findings at conferences and speaking opportunities. I’ve never spoken at a conference and not won a client at the end. The feedback from my presentations is only ever … ‘we want more insight’.


Contact Emily at Attica to discuss how we can help you with content marketing, from designing surveys to writing up the findings: