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Decision Back Podcast: Consumer Insights With Sarb Dhanjal-Brown Of Blue Diamond

Erik Larson Jun 27, 2022 7:15:00 AM

Our latest Decision-Back Podcast is available now! It’s a fascinating conversation between the brilliant Sarb Dhanjal-Brown, Director of Consumer Insights, Analytics & Consumer Advocacy at Blue Diamond Growers, and Cloverpop’s own President and Chief Commercial Officer, Lanny Roytburg.

Listen to the podcast.


The evolution of market research

…Back in the day, market research was a side-load operation. Even in the biggest companies I've worked in, they were seen very much as a support function, a support function for marketing, a support function for sales. It was a very transactional relationship. ‘We're going to explore advertising, so let's conduct a market research study.’ We had tried and truly tested methodologies, a good selection of vendors that we worked with, and not to say it was a recipe card because it's a science, it's a science function, but it certainly was very simple in those days.

Now you fast forward all these years, and we see a transition with terminology like consumer insights, and the change has been to understand behavior versus reactions to content or reactions to a product idea. It's about trying to understand what drives the behavior of a human being or an audience to reveal the true, underlying insight of what drives them and how we then can address those unmet needs or emotive gaps for that human or that audience with our products or our communication and marketing initiatives.

That transition has taken quite some time, and it was spearheaded by innovation teams. Because, as we all know, innovation is hard, right? It's difficult to land innovation time and time again. Science will tell you that understanding behavior is the key. That's what has happened in the evolution from market research and conducting surveys to understanding behavior to create valuable insights and give them back to the organization…

Partnering with business stakeholders

…When I started to build the vision for the functions of insights and analytics, it was very intentional that it needs to remain its own constituency and that was purposeful because it needs to be an objective consultative voice for the enterprise. Whether it's popular or not, we will give you an objective opinion and not have it biased in any way because, ultimately, that is what is going to be in the best interest of the enterprise going forward. 

That doesn't mean we do not partner incredibly closely with our stakeholders in marketing or sales or finance or supply chain. In fact, many of my team members are embedded in those functions and work collaboratively and very closely with their marketing and innovation partners.

It is really centered around having the right conversation and having close partnerships with your marketing and innovation teams to understand their business issues and what decisions they're trying to make. So we coach through it and consult quite heavily. So with that, my insight professionals, whether they are analytics or insights or advocacy, are then able to help harness the power of the data and the technology we have to get better insights to inform decisions with those respective partners.

It's very much about having rich discussions, having that consultative voice, an objective voice, and placing it into the context of implications for the enterprise. It's one thing to say this is what is occurring, but it's another to elevate that and say, as a result, the net impact of what could happen or is happening, and here is how we recommend solving it. So it's very much centered around "the what" and the "so what" with teases to the "now what,” which really does belong to the business partners…

The transition to decision-back thinking

…Depending on what the business questions are, we recommend the right approach to go about solving that question. It can be a challenge for our vendors. It's one thing for our people to learn and train in these techniques, but it's also a challenge for our vendors. I've definitely seen it in the last 8 to 10 years, a real shift with some of the largest research partners and insight partners we work with, having to change and modify their techniques to understand the consumer of the future and to get to more meaningful insights for actionability because that's what's making the difference for our internal stakeholders, “Tell me how I'm supposed to use this information and am I going to be able to help inform a decision that needs to be made?”

So, the real challenge is to have a conversation with our business partners, not about understanding how a particular concept is scored or do people like my idea, but to reframe the conversation around the decision we're trying to make so that our insight professionals can recommend the right approach. It might not be one approach, it might be multifaceted, and it usually is to serve the decision that needs to be made.

But that is a very new concept for many companies and a very new vernacular for many companies. Certainly, even at Blue Diamond, it's very new to be having those conversations with our marketing, not necessarily just asking the business question or helping with the business question, but also, now, how is that question going to inform a decision? What is that ultimate decision we're trying to make so we can provide the best approach or do work connected across insights and analytics, and that avoids the siloed practices that take place…

Building a new decision-oriented muscle

…It's important to place into perspective that not all decisions are created equal either. Is this a small decision, or is it a medium decision? Is this a big risk-taking decision we are about to take? That's a very important realization and something that our insight professionals need to be more well-versed in. They need training in understanding that not all decisions are equal because depending on those decisions we want to be able to go back to our stakeholders and business partners to provide them with the right approach and the right tools.

This needs training, however. Our functions and our industry are excellent at trying to put together a research proposal on a business question and providing a methodology that's tried and true and tested, and it's a single project idea, as an example. When we think about the decision-back approach, what are the decisions that we're trying to make, it's an art form to recommend the right approach. Is the decision small, medium, or large? What trade-offs can occur, and what calculated risks are we willing to take? It's not just a learning process and a training opportunity within the insights function. It's a learning and training opportunity across the enterprise, whether you're in marketing, sales, category management, or finance because it's certainly not a practice that people are used to.

People are very good in my experience, as stakeholders, at posing the questions. We need to know X. We need to understand why people aren't buying X. But when you ask the question, what decision are we trying to inform, there's a pause, and if there's a pause it’s because they haven't really thought it through carefully, why am I asking for the information in the first place?

So it's definitely a cultural change, but it's also an opportunity for our folks across the enterprise to be thinking through that lens because it strips away the noise of what you are exploring and gets to the ultimate question that we're trying to answer, which would be a decision. It will be more efficient, it will require time, and it will take a new muscle that needs to be developed…