Q&A: The Power of Market Intelligence

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Businesses need intelligence and insight to inform and market their products and/or services effectively, and one tech solution that is praised as the ‘saving grace' for helping organisations to achieve such is market intelligence. Referring to the practice of gathering and analysing external data about a specific market or industry one wishes to enter, it helps to guide and make business decisions. 

To find out more about market intelligence and its role within the modern business, we spoke to a long-standing expert in the field: Kate DuBois, General Manager (GM), Market Intelligence at Kenshoo. Kate began working at the leading digital marketing-advertising platform as GM Search & Agency Partnerships, and after a successful 18 months moved into the position she holds today. Her experience in market intelligence/ecommerce is extensive: Kate has worked in performance media, digital marketing, and communications for nearly 15 years, including managerial roles at leading marketing-communication agencies such as Omnicom and Edelman. One of her biggest achievements is launching Edelman's first e-commerce offering. 

Welcome to EM360 and thank you for joining us Kate! Let's kick off the conversation with a bit of background information. What inspired you to get into marketing and what is life like working at Kenshoo - especially within the business unit that runs the company's newly-acquired subsidiary Signals Analytics

Marketing is an exciting career because it connects business, psychology and creativity to bring innovative products and services to the market. As marketers, we need to deeply understand our markets, the consumer, and how to influence consumers to take action - to buy products, to engage with a brand, to part with their hard earned money. And it takes a lot to do this! I started my career as search marketer - the most data-driven form of marketing which responds to consumer behaviors and real-time consumer demand. This experience has translated into all my roles across agencies and at Kenshoo. At Kenshoo we understand that data is the fuel that drives effective marketing. Without a data led strategy marketers are driving blind - they don't know who to target, in which channels, what messaging will resonate and how to measure the effectiveness. It's super exciting to be a leader at Kenshoo, an innovative, passionate, collaborative and humble company that puts our clients, the marketers, first to help them win in this rapidly changing and complex marketing landscape. 

Now, market intelligence is often mistakenly put into the same bracket as market research. What is it exactly that distinguishes one from the other and do you think it is important to see them as standalone business processes? 

Although often used interchangeably, and despite having similar applications within an organization, there are differences between market research and market intelligence.

  • Market research is very specific to your own company and aims to address a specific question / hypothesis usually related to customer needs and preferences. Market intelligence on the other hand relates to the broader market in which your company operates and accounts for competitive, product and consumer information.
  • Market research is often conducted as a one-off project—perhaps in the form of focus groups or in-person surveys. Conversely, market intelligence is something you should be continuously gathering. 
  • Market research is not dependent on having any existing data—with surveys and focus groups for example you have free reign to ask whatever you like. Market intelligence, however, is reliant on access to historical data sources.

While market research still plays an important role in effective decision making, it does have its limitations. It can take time to gather primary research and in today's volatile environment, can often be out of date before it even hits your desk. It's also hard to do at scale and prone to bias (people say what they think you want to hear rather than how they actually behave).

Recognizing these limitations, brands are increasingly investing in developing a single system of insight—one source of truth about the customer and market in which it operates. Signals Analytics uniquely combines the depth and granularity of insights traditionally only gleaned from market research with the breadth of insights only accessible from ‘big data' sources. 

There are said to be four key components of market intelligence: competitor analysis, product evaluation, market analysis, and customer understanding. Can you tell us a little about each one's role and how you take these into consideration at Kenshoo? 

Each of these components is powerful in its own right. Doing a thorough competitive analysis can help you to differentiate your product or brand, giving you an unfair advantage in the market. Product evaluations can help you customize your offerings to the needs of the consumer. Market analysis helps you to assess the potential market opportunity. And it goes without saying that identifying who your customers are and catering to their needs is the only way brands are going to really win big. 

However, many companies still gather the data to support each of these components in isolation. One team will have access to product and sales data. Another team may have insights into new patents being filed. And somewhere else in the business someone is monitoring social conversations. Herein lies the problem—using one source/type of data only gives you a part of the bigger picture.

Let me give you an example. Back in 2016 we were asked by a client to predict the future sales of Olive Oil. Using point-of-sale data alone we saw that over the course of the next four years sales would decline. However using Signals Analytics, which combines multiple data sources from across the product, consumer and innovation landscape to form a prediction (i.e. social media, forums, products, product reviews, key opinion leaders, product descriptions, patent filings and more), we forecast that sales would increase significantly. Sure enough, they did and the brand in question was able to take advantage of this by getting ahead of the trend. 

So, while each of these four components provide key insights individually, it is only when they are connected and contextualized in one single platform that you ever really see the complete picture and can get an accurate view into market trends, consumer needs and the competitive landscape. 

Some of the most widely known, primary benefits of market intelligence are enhanced business decision-making and detailed market/customer insight. Are there any other lesser-known ways in which market intelligence can add value to organisations? 

We believe that the real benefit of market intelligence isn't just about saying you can enhance decision making. It's proving it. Having accurate information on hand to answer questions that inform decision making is just the start of the story. Brands need to have confidence that the insights they get from their market intelligence tool can change the way they do business. It's about being able to:

  • Proactively inspire change and provoke actions that people aren't even thinking about
  • Democratize data throughout the organisation to get insights into the hands of people that need them
  • Make sure that every business critical decision is fuelled by data and insights
  • Adapt quickly when unexpected events (like global pandemics!) occur 
  • Make decisions faster and take advantage of being first-to-market
  • Drive growth because of your obsession with the customer and their needs
  • Understand not just what is happening, but why
  • Measure the impact of your decisions 

Market intelligence is only valuable if it has an impact and our clients see this manifest in many ways—be that growing revenue, taking first-mover-advantage, identifying M&A targets before someone else snaps them up, growing category share or successfully conquering new geographies.

Should market intelligence platforms and services be seen as a necessary investment for businesses in today's climate and beyond?

The last 12 months has created a ‘new normal' which brands are trying to adapt to. Take the  consumer products industry for example. The shift to ecommerce and rise of direct-to-consumer brands has seen unprecedented acceleration and has left brands rethinking everything—from how they connect with their consumers, to the products they sell, their distribution channels, brand purpose and marketing strategies.

Navigating this complex and evolving environment requires having your finger on the pulse at all times. Once considered an ideal, data-driven decision making using market intelligence has become a necessity and brands recognize that the tools that got them to where they are today will not suffice in this new normal. Just keeping up with the market is no longer good enough—brands need to always be able to understand what is happening today and predict what will happen in the future. Survival depends on it.