The biggest hurdles when putting Market Intelligence into action

The most complicated tasks in market intelligence?

The holiday season offers a good time to think. At the end of this year I reflected on what I see as the most complicated task in market intelligence.


Initially I considered certain collection challenges. You can’t tell what you can’t find. It is true, some facts are not simply unknown. They are a mystery, and they may be unpleasantly difficult, or even impossible to find legally. Still, that is more a nuisance than a complication. In the analysis and reporting of facts and insights, prickly issues may also emerge.


How can you draw conclusions, when you don’t feel confident? Think of situations where you have to handle sources with conflicting information without you knowing which source to trust most. In the end, however, as analysis and reporting is within your own control, practice makes perfect. I couldn’t help but conclude that market intelligence tasks that are within your control may be challenging, but are not the most complicated.


The complications start with what you cannot control, e.g. the mind of your customer, the decision-maker. A decision-maker may order market intelligence work to be done. However, he/she may also collect her own MI, or may be offered MI by sources other than you. Their own collection may also build up a picture of what there is to know. It is only at the time of delivery of your painstaking MI-work that you discover that the decision-maker has already made up their mind about the topic you report upon, and they may choose otherwise. How do you, as a market intelligence professional, handle that?


Vividness as a means of persuasion


My highlight during this break was when I discovered we in MI are not alone in facing this challenge. Keren Yarhi-Milo in her dissertation called “Knowing the Adversary – leaders, intelligence and the assessment of international relations” reports how intelligence agencies and Western Governments operate remarkably similar to market intelligence staff and their managers. Many of us in MI will probably instantly recognize Keren’s insights*.


A key insight relates to what is known as the vividness bias. When a decision-maker has vividly experienced new information, the impact of this experience on his/her perception of the MI-topic at stake is such that the person normally is no longer very open to change their views.


No matter how balanced the analysis that the CIA during the Cold War provided to the US President on the intentions of Soviet Russia, one short meeting of the President with his Soviet counterpart mattered most to how he viewed those intentions. In business, for a CEO that visits a new country and sees one or two shops selling our firm’s categories, this matters more to his views than a balanced market share analysis provided after weeks of MI work. The shops he saw for sure were not representative. The CEO’s picture from now is probably biased, but the damage has been done. The persuasiveness of the format of the CEO’s acquisition of this intelligence (a foreign trip, a new country, a good experience, a lively host) easily beats your balanced report with many sophisticated tables.


In market intelligence, I currently see two options: to get cynical or to get inspired. The first option is not a great idea in the winter, so I suggest the second one. Why don’t we, as MI professionals, offer our customers vivid experiences, when we deliver our content? When did you last provide your output in video-format – with moving pictures, in which you for example interviewed your customers for the top brass to see – to create that memorable experience? When human psychology relates vividness with persuasive impact, we are better off when we do not fight against it, but rather make it work for us. After all, it serves the right cause: maximizing the return of the intelligence of your company by making MI used.


*the vividness bias is only one of several insights that justify an MI-professional to study Keren’s work


By Erik Elgersma


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