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Registration is now open for the 2017 Customer Intelligence Summit. Don't miss the opportunity to network with and learn from your industry peers and thought leaders.

Earlier this week, more than 400 professionals in marketing, customer experience, innovation and research gathered in Chicago for the 2016 Customer Intelligence Summit. The two-day annual conference featured keynotes and presentations by some of the world’s leading customer-centric brands.

Here’s a look at our favorite takeaways from this year’s Summit.

1. Embrace the authenticity challenge.

“Authentic companies inspire loyalty,” said Scott Miller, CEO of Vision Critical, in his opening keynote. Customers, especially Millennials, expect transparency and honesty—and they support companies they perceive to be truthful and real.

Start by clearly defining what your company stands for, developing an understanding of how customers engage with your brand and prioritizing lasting emotional connections with consumers. Miller explained the ‘Authenticity Lifecycle,’ which is a business model that infuses authentic engagement with marketing, innovation and customer experience activities. The 2016 Visionary Award winners Wolverine Worldwide, Alliant Energy, ESPN and Elizabeth Arden have all fully embraced this approach.

2. Get a grasp on the complex nature of customer taste.

Tom Vanderbilt, journalist and author of You May Also Like: Taste in the Age of Endless Choice, delivered a keynote on the fascinating nature of customer preferences. According to Vanderbilt, social media and our sharing economy have transformed how people’s tastes are influenced by others. To deliver on what customers are really looking for, companies need to tackle the challenges in quantifying people’s preferences. In a world of choice, consumers need help to simplify their decisions. Brands must distill familiarity out of new ideas to make it easy to trust and follow.

3. Use Sparq to bring authenticity to life.

During the product keynote, Divesh Sisodraker, president and chief product officer at Vision Critical, and Kobi Ofir, chief technology officer at Vision Critical, shared updates on new features in Sparq that will help companies engage more meaningfully with their customers. Existing features like Stories and Search, along with new enhancements like API integrations, will help companies get deeper, more contextualized customer data.

4. Test your assumptions about the customer journey.

Visionary Award winners Alliant Energy and the Art Gallery of New South Wales shared how they built the ultimate end-to-end customer journey. While both companies come from different industries, they find common ground in their agreement that engaging with customers is key to better customer experience.

Heidi Martin, strategy and insights consultant at Art Gallery of New South Wales, said that CX pros need to drop their preconceptions about the customer journey. Companies must welcome customer feedback and continually test and learn from new ideas. Mike Thiede, customer experience consultant at Alliant Energy, agreed, saying that continuous engagement is required to ensure your customer personas reflect changes in preference and taste.

5. Prioritize your profiling questionnaire and first surveys.

To launch an insight community successfully requires strategic planning, such as gathering stakeholder buy-in and consulting brand guidelines. The first activities in your community are just as critical because they set the tone for future communications.

Cassie Mally, director of UX at GoDaddy, stressed the importance of the profiling questionnaire—the initial survey that asks for your customers’ basic information. Mally believes it should be developed in collaboration with stakeholders across the business. By asking the right profiling questions, you can segment your audience and send the most relevant activities to target groups.

Alesha Rhinier, customer engagement project manager at Lancaster General Health/Penn Medicine, offered a similar tip, explaining that setting goals and planning your first survey helps inform what needs to be included in the profiling questionnaire. According to Amanda White, the marketing director at WXIA-TV, companies with new insight communities should plan, design and schedule all activities for the first three months.

6. Take advantage of new methodologies in research innovation.

To deliver impactful and timely insight to business leaders in your company, you can’t rely on slow, traditional research methods. MARU/VCR&C’s Matt Kleinschmit moderated a session featuring market research leaders from World Vision Canada, Warner Bros Home Entertainment, Southwest Airlines and PepsiCo, who said implementing new technologies and methodologies is necessary to adapt to the evolving consumer market.

7. Use consumer insight through the product innovation cycle.

Wolverine Worldwide and DEWALT share a few notable similarities. They’re both leaders in their space, and they’re Visionary Award winners.

DEWALT’s award-winning insight community has resulted to savings of over $1 million in study costs this year and close to $6 million since its launch.

In a strategy session on innovation, Kate Pinkham, vice president of consumer insights and market intelligence at Wolverine Worldwide, and Shannon Chenoweth, research manager at DEWALT, shared how they use insight communities to involve their customers in each step of the innovation process. According to Pinkham and Chenoweth, continuous, iterative testing helps those who develop new products to push for smarter and faster innovation in a commoditized marketplace. DEWALT’s award-winning insight community has resulted to savings of over $1 million in study costs this year and close to $6 million since its launch.

8. Develop an engagement plan.

High engagement in online communities doesn’t happen by accident. In her session on increasing member engagement, Kelly Gartshore, VP of customer success at Vision Critical, said that companies need to create an engagement plan a few months in advance. Think of a variety of activities—from a sneak peek into new products to thank you videos—to keep people interested.

Molly Schmied, director of market research and insights at the Ohio State University, shared similar advice, explaining how your engagement strategy needs to align with your editorial calendar. Jason Minser, director of customer research at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, said that some of his most effective engagement activities included photo competitions and face-to-face events (like the anniversary of your insight community) because they reinforced the sense of community and camaraderie.

9. Unearth new revenue streams from customer feedback.

Market research departments are increasingly contributing directly to the bottom line.

Steve McSpiritt, market research specialist at Barnes & Noble College, and Amy Moore, strategic insights data manager at Kelley Blue Book, shared how research has evolved from a cost center to a revenue generator.

McSpiritt said that monetizing your insight community, by reselling data to partners, for instance, can create a win-win situation. Partners get the insight they need to create more compelling and relevant marketing campaigns, while your company explores additional revenue streams.

Moore shared tips on how to generate money from customer feedback. First, identify the opportunity with a partner. Offering unique psychographic information could be desirable for marketers who want to reach people similar to the members of your insight community. Second, increase the visibility of your insight community by gaining top tier media coverage. “Gain visibility by taking advantage of the ability to collect immediate results,” said Moore.

10. Enhance marketing with customer insight.

Dave Blumberg, associate manager of advertising insights at ESPN, told us that bringing research in-house with an insight community has resulted in savings of approximately $650,000 in one year. ESPN’s award-winning insight community, FANography, has helped the company make more effective, data-driven marketing decisions in a world of shifting media landscape.

Bringing research in-house with an insight community has resulted in savings of approximately $650,000 in one year.

Shifting gears to the health care industry, patient insight also helps organizations become better marketers. Andrea Bonk, CRM and market research coordinator at OSF Healthcare, shared how listening to patients allows her to create stronger marketing messages. OSF Listens, the company’s insight community, gives her an avenue to validate and tweak marketing campaigns prior to launch.

11. Elevate customer feedback with collaboration.

Customer intelligence shouldn’t be an afterthought. Increasing the visibility of your insight community requires the cooperation of various departments.

Brooks Deaton, director of consumer research at NASCAR, offered this sage advice: create a roadmap to involve other departments in your research activities early. Two-way conversations with your colleagues—for instance, through brainstorming sessions—is important. Stephanie Preshon-Baker, manager of marketing research at the University of Chicago Medicine, suggested creating a cross-functional workgroup made up of colleagues who can champion the use of your insight community.

12. Use enterprise data to build a complete view of your customer.

Getting contextual customer intelligence is key to fully understanding your customers. With the upcoming Sparq API integrations, it’s easier than ever to add context and develop a story around your customer data.

Anaud Ganpaul, senior director of product marketing at Vision Critical, and Colin Kelso, senior product manager at Vision Critical, shared examples of companies that integrate data from insight communities with other data sources (like CRM and connected devices) to make more effective business decisions.

13. Embrace the opportunities of a frictionless world.

Brands are failing to meet customer expectations. In his keynote, Andrew Reid, founder and president of corporate innovation at Vision Critical, revealed that 84 percent of customers don’t think brands exceed expectations. Real-time interactions, personalization and authentic exchanges has resulted to increasing demand for frictionless experiences.

Customer intelligence pros play a significant role in meeting changing customer expectations, according to Reid. Those who manage customer feedback are the ‘truth serum in the company’ because they link brands with customer insight. Reid challenged those in attendance to embrace the opportunity and use the tools and data available to ensure that every brand interaction is authentic and frictionless.

Andrew Reid: Customer Intelligence in a Frictionless World

14. Learn, share and then learn some more.

Melissa Madian, SVP of customer experience enablement at Vision Critical, unveiled an exciting collaborative learning environment called the Vision Critical Academy. With this resource, customer intelligence pros can access product knowledge, on-demand training, certifications, idea sharing and best practices. With guided learning paths, the Vision Critical Academy will help those using Sparq software get up-to-date industry information, share their own expertise and collaborate with others.

15. Make every stakeholder count.

More companies are integrating customer feedback with other sources of business insight, including employees and channel partners, to make informed decisions. According to  Lindsey Colella, analytics and insights associate director at Sun Life Financial, the key to engaging every major stakeholder is to make the research process easy for them. The analysis of your results should focus squarely on how it benefits those teams.

Susan Corbelli, principal market research specialist at the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, said that launching employee communities can help ensure that feedback from your front-line staff is integrated into the decision-making process.

16. Improve the experience for empowered patients.

As the health care industry steps up to tackle changes in the consumer landscape, smart organizations recognize that to improve the experience of patients and health plan members requires authentic engagement.

Kay Schmitt, director of market research at HealthPartners, said that health-care providers need an engagement solution that meets the needs of patients and members, while simplifying the process of obtaining insight. The company’s insight community of 1,000 members, HealthPartners myVoice, has a staggering 61 percent response rate. Schmitt credited this success to their focus on protecting member privacy and willingness to share results via community newsletters and internal communications.

Misti Allison, senior market research analyst at Cleveland Clinic, offered similar advice, saying that cultivating empathy for patients is essential to stay relevant in the evolving health care industry.

17. Drive predictive insight with relationship memory.

The evolution of market intelligence is heading toward relationship memory.

According to our very own Tamara Pritchard, VP of product management, and Paul Holtzman, SVP of data science, relationship memory powers authentic customer relationships by remembering information from the past, in the same way that e-commerce sites often remember past purchases. Ultimately, relationship memory enables companies to learn more about their customers over time.

Relationship memory powers authentic customer relationships by remembering information from the past. 

In Sparq, profile variables help gather up-to-date information about your customers using a centralized ecosystem. Using profile variables helps you invite customers to more relevant  and targeted. Together with Sparq features like Search, profile variables can provide a clearer picture of your customers—without having to ask for the same information over and over again.

18. Give big data the context it needs to be useful.

HarperCollins knows a thing or two about making sense of large volumes of data. Catherine Makk, VP of global insights at HarperCollins, said making sense of big data should start with the goals of your C-suite, in particular of the chief digital officer. Once you’re clear on your business goals, start collaborating with IT to work through the technical challenges of sifting through different data sources.

Tony Tong, senior market researcher at LinkedIn, added that using ‘little data’ helps close the gaps in Big Data analysis. ‘Little data,’ which refers to information not coming from Big Data sources, helps complete the picture of the customer—providing context and color Big Data alone can’t provide. LinkedIn, one of the world’s biggest social media networks, uses feedback from its five insight communities to validate findings from big and small data. This more complete picture has informed major decisions about the company’s flagship app and desktop experience.

19. Think creatively during recruitment.

Recruiting the right members for your insight community is a critical step to getting more ROI out of customer intelligence.

According to Christy Ransom, VP of engagement strategy at Vision Critical, successful recruitment begins by clearly defining the personas you’d like to involve, brainstorming how to reach them and then planning regular recruitment campaigns post-launch. When thinking about personas, talk to other stakeholders in your company to build a more complete picture. Go beyond demographics and define communication and media consumption preferences for each persona.

Andrea Bonk, CRM and market research coordinator at OSF Healthcare, shared how her organization successfully recruited members through social media and web campaigns. The first step, according to Bonk was to determine just how technologically savvy the company’s target personas are.

For GoDaddy, its current email database was a recruitment goldmine. According to Cassie Mally, director of UX at GoDaddy, targeted emails were sent to some segments (like the company’s investors) to get more than 4,000 members to its community.

20. Take advantage of the Sparq upgrade.

Our very own Brent Peppiatt, senior product manager, and Tara Walker, SVP of customer success strategy and planning, provided a glimpse into enhancements coming soon to Sparq. These upgrades will improve the entire user experience, from the way activities are created to the way results are analyzed. If you’re a Vision Critical customer, our team will be in touch to share how you can take full advantage of the new and improved Sparq platform.

21. Protect your brand.

Celia Tombalakian, senior director of consumer insights and product development at Elizabeth Arden, said that listening to target consumers and sharing findings with them has been an important step to protecting the beauty company’s brand. It’s award-winning insight community helps to clarify its target persona and provides the necessary information to optimize promotions and marketing creative.

Cleo Parker, marketing analyst at Pet Supplies Plus, revealed how to quickly evaluate ideas and products based on their fit with your brand by tapping into your insight community. Talk to your customers regularly to ensure that products that go to market reinforce, not contradict, your brand story.

22. Use ongoing insight for CX, marketing and product innovation.

Successful product innovation considers the end user. According to Colleen Hau, senior manager of co-creation at Carhartt, involving customers throughout the product innovation lifecycle—from concept-generation to prototyping—can build deeper empathy for target consumers, which is critical to driving innovation.

For Susan Frazier, director of custom research at Public Broadcasting Service, gathering ongoing insight requires ‘connecting the dots’ within an organization. She encouraged customer intelligence pros to not be afraid to step outside of the ‘researcher box’ and suggested bringing teams together to enrich the research process.

23. Get more ROI out of your content.

In the media and entertainment business, content is king. But having the best content doesn’t guarantee success.

Jessica Rappaport, VP marketing at E.W. Scripps, revealed how engaging with over 8,000 consumers across 15 markets has resulted in not only better programming, but also in determining where to place content and at what time. Knowing her target audience across multiple platforms has been essential for Rappaport to improve ratings for the media company.

At IAG, an insurance company based in Australia and winner of the APAC Visionary award, customer feedback has influenced content in several ways. Mei Toh, research consultant at IAG, said the company uses customer intelligence to inform content for its self-service websites, resulting in improved customer experience. Research also improves branded content, which then helps drive engagement and awareness for the brand.

Viacom International Media Networks Africa, winner of the 2016 EMEA Visionary Award, shared a similar story. According to Giuliana Dias, research manager at Viacom International Media Networks Africa, the company prioritizes authentic connections with its audience when developing local content for its various networks.

24. Outmaneuver automation.

Research automation is here, and it’s not going away. That’s according to Ray Poynter, author of Winning the Research Revolution and chair of IIeX Europe and Asia Pacific. In an electrifying keynote presentation, Poynter warned research pros that 40 to 60 percent of jobs in the industry might go away in 10 years as companies embrace artificial intelligence and automation. To thrive in the age of faster, cheaper and better research, insight pros need to exploit the opportunities offered by automation. Insight departments need to enable improvement in the enterprise and move from being a cost center to generating revenue.

25. Embrace the five decisions of prosperous brands.

Jeanne Bliss, founder of CustomerBliss and co-founder of the Customer Experience Professionals Association, delivered the final keynote, sharing the five common decisions prosperous brands make. To follow the footsteps of the most respected brands, companies must follow these rules:

  • Believe and accept customers as assets to care for and nurture
  • Be clear about your purpose of creating value for your customers
  • Earn the right for customers to return by showing you’re reliable
  • Empower frontline staff to be there for your customers
  • Apologize when you make mistakes

See you at the 2017 Customer Intelligence Summit! 

Our thanks to all marketing, customer experience and innovation pros for making the 2016 Customer Intelligence Summit our biggest and best one yet. 

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