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Why “Actionable Insights” Can Make, Not Break, Your Marketing

If you’re a marketer, you know the critical value of getting customer input, but you’re stretched for time and resources. Instead of merely looking to the past, you need to build for the future. To do that, you’ll need “actionable insights” from your marketing research.

Actionable insights can guide marketing strategies and tactics. But what is an “actionable” insight, and once you’ve identified it, how is it measured?

Marketers Want Actionable, Accurate and Affordable Research

The need among marketing professionals for “actionable insights” became clear to us after conducting a Digsite Sprint. A Digsite Sprint is an on-demand qualitative market research tool designed to provide in-depth insights from a targeted audience -- in this case 25 senior marketers at consumer product companies.

The interactive interface allows participants to answer survey questions, share ideas and images, and respond to each other’s comments. This Sprint revealed our participants are looking for marketing research that meets three specific qualities -- it must be Actionable, Accurate and Affordable.

In this 3-part blog post series, we’re going to focus on each of these specific areas, detailing what these terms actually mean when applied in real life, and why they’re so important to marketing professionals. We’ll start out with the first quality: Actionable.

What are “Actionable” Insights?

Generated by marketing research, actionable insights lead to the development or refinement of products, strategies and tactics that trigger measurable results.

How does that look in practice? Content marketing guru Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media shares his perspective on actionable:

Andy Crestodina Quote

“There are two kinds of research: Academic and practical. The academic kind usually gathers dust. The practical kind gathers shares, links, comments and visitors. Actionable content, especially original research, is what the Internet really wants,” Andy said.

The research from Andy and Orbit Media inspires an action.  Orbit’s annual blogger survey produces insights such as how many times bloggers publish to generate results. Content marketers can use that action to revise their approach and improve their results.

Stephanie Tilton, Principal at Ten Ton Marketing, integrates actionable insights early in the planning process, using it to shape the marketing effort:

Stephanie Tilton Quote

Our own marketing research reinforces many of the ideas you’ve just read. Here are verbatim responses from the marketing professionals from our Digsite Sprint:

“Research and insights don’t matter if they are not actionable or accurate.”

“Actionable because research should never be just for knowledge -- it should be for progress.”

“My company doesn’t care as much about marketing research as I do. It has to be affordable for them to be willing to do it. It has to be accurate for it to matter. It has to be actionable for me to prove its worth.”

“Good and useful information that can be used today and to define tomorrow.”

Let’s take a deeper look at exactly what actionable insights are, and how you can use them to create alternative solutions for your customers.

Turning Actionable Insight Into Buyer Foresight

In this brilliant post on5 Obstacles to B2B Market Research and Actionable Customer Insights,” Tony Zambito, Originator of Buyer Personas at Tony Zambito, LLC, brings further clarity to what is “actionable.”

Access to Big Data provides us with a lot of data, but as Tony notes, “There are boundaries as to how much we can squeeze out of data.”

Marketing research can be stuck in hindsight.

He believes marketing research, with its roots in quantitative research, can be “stuck in hindsight.” This hindsight allows us to determine trends, but it doesn’t keep pace with the rapid nature of changing in consumer buying behavior.

Tony believes business leaders must think of “turning buyer insight into buyer foresight.”  Instead of looking in the rearview mirror of what has been done in the past, strive for market research that brings “new levels of buyer predictability into the mindset of marketing and sales.”

In this short audio interview, Tony shares with us what type of research produces actionable insights.

Tony Zambito Expert Interview



How Do You Generate Your Own Actionable Marketing Insights?

Progress. Define tomorrow. Marketers are looking to actionable insights to draw connections from what consumers liked/disliked in the past to changes they would like to see in the future.

To find those insights, you can’t simply reflect on what’s in the market today. It either requires a clear understanding of the context of consumers’ feelings/beliefs, and/or participating in a process of sharing new ideas or concepts.

You need iterative insights that aid in your decision making process, even utilizing experimental research. I delve deeper into what that entails in this short audio clip.

Monika Wingate Expert Interview


How to Determine Where to Apply Actionable Insights

Ultimately, research has to pay off for your business. It has to prove itself to justify its existence. It has to create that insight that literally ties into Return on Investment. But how do you determine if your marketing research is actionable?

PortMA, a marketing analytics firm for events, provides a great way to define research that is “actionable,” as well as a method for accurately determining ROI.

In a nice series of posts, they describe how to organize your business data into two categories:

Results - that which you’re trying to impact or change (Sales, coupon redemption, revenue, etc.)

Delivery - that which impacts the things you want to change (Marketing, pricing, packaging, etc.)

Chris Clegg Quote

“If you make changes in the Delivery, it will affect your Results. For example, if you increase the pricing on your unit, it may lead to an increase (or decrease) in revenue, sales, etc.,” said Chris Clegg, President of PortMA.

With that mindset, actionable marketing research should have some sort of influence on Delivery.  Do you have actionable insights that tell if your packaging design is good? Or that your marketing slogan inspires an emotional response?  

Those Delivery items should be the focal point for your research.  You will also be able to make a direct correlation between the changes you made, and the results at the end of the day. That can truly help you justify if your marketing research is “worth it.”

How Can You Use Actionable Insights to Deliver an Alternative Solution?

Now that you’ve got actionable insights, the iterative process continues as you begin to create an alternative solution to your deliverable (new product, ad campaign, website, etc.).

Consider developing early concepts for your possible solutions and having your consumers or customers mark-up what they like and dislike. Make sure they tell you why! You can even ask consumers to build their ideal solution to problems you've identified as a first step.

If you have a solution that is economical to try in-market, experiment with different approaches with a small budget, subset of customers, or timeframe to see how they react. Always return to your customers for reactions and input. Remember, this is a process!

Start Collaborating With Customers On What They Truly Want

Generating actionable insights isn’t just about looking into the past. Yes, it’s easy to look back on your marketing programs, and there is value in determining what went right (and especially what went wrong).

But as Tony Zambito noted, we have to be careful not to rely on hindsight. It’s not just about learning what customers did or didn’t like. It’s about working with them to create something they’ll like today and into the future.

In our next post, we’ll dig deeper into what makes marketing research “accurate.”

Interested in learning more about a tool for producing “actionable insights?” Click here to learn more about Digsite Sprints!


To learn more about how your company can benefit from actionable insights, check out our Digsite Sprints Fact Sheet!

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Topics: Market Research, Iterative Insights

Monika Rogers

Monika Rogers

Monika Rogers is the CEO and Co-founder of Digsite. She has more than 20 years of marketing, innovation and market research experience, including positions at General Mills, Pillsbury and the A.C. Nielsen Center for Marketing Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.