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Enhancing Insights by Connecting AI, Human Understanding

In the survey, when asked, “What are the biggest opportunities within the insights function?,” respondents selected “understanding the role of AI in insights” and “providing deep human understanding” as the top opportunities. Both were selected by 61% of survey respondents. Technology innovation was also selected by 43%, which could also be seen as an additional view of AI being introduced to the marketplace, among other newly developed tools.

Many contributors to the report observe that AI and deep human understanding could be seen as disruptive opposition to one another. Just how can both be selected by the majority of survey respondents? Is this a continuing paradox in the marketplace? Not necessarily, our expert contributors point out. While seemingly a juxtaposition, an insights manager or team doesn’t have to choose one over the other. Instead, there are opportunities and synergies for both the AI and human side of insights, and the potential to work together to enhance the market research discipline.

AI’s Impact

Some point out the split view of AI and human insights could be seen as the initial apprehension of what AI might bring to the table. Will it impact my job? But, as experimentation continues, that fear may be somewhat allayed by the efficiency AI can bring to data science and insights tasks. It might not be ready to guide enterprise strategy or provide storytelling abilities quite yet—but it just may support those insights functions and the humans that are leading the charge in some way, as the human element strives to become better storytellers and consultants to the business.

Shilpa Khanna, Associate Director Transformational Growth Insights, The Clorox Company, observes, “I think people have gotten over the emotional aspect of what’s my role and they’ve gotten into what’s the application? What’s the right use of the data source? Does this correlate to market data? People are starting to ask some of those more intelligent questions. And I think that will move them towards finding the right tools for the challenge.”

“Everyone is eager to understand AI,” agrees Justin Coates, Head of Global Market Research & Consumer Insights, Eastman. “How can companies leverage AI to optimize their organizations holistically? By using insights professionals. But there is a split view. On the one hand, this is an advanced tool that can simplify the job. And then on the other hand, there is fear that it will replace us. There’s some cautious optimism around the role of AI. Insights organizations can manage through this to get a clear road map of how they start to integrate elements of AI to improve operations.”

The synergies of the two elements, AI and human understanding, could be the key to advancing the insights field in the future. Just how might be open to debate. It may depend on different functions and tasks, and it could be different for every organization and their own specific strategy.

“AI and human understanding ideally could work in synergy, understanding how we leverage AI and use that to accelerate our function while mirroring the human side of things and not losing that,” points out Cherie Leonard, Senior Director of NA Insights, Colgate-Palmolive. “It’s interesting to think of those two working hand in hand to drive the impact of our function.”

Others point to the insights professional’s role in overseeing it all and bringing all the various data science threads together to provide insights and leadership to the business. The human understanding of all these elements is still key to market research.

“While I’m not surprised to see AI trending, I’m also happy to see some of the consultative skills, human understanding and empathy featured in the survey as either things that we as an industry think we do well or things we need to continue to get better at. That’s what makes our function unique,” says Jordan Cusner, Head of Guest Insights, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen. “It’s very positive that AI is in lockstep with human understanding. AI is not always going to get exactly where it needs to be and requires a little bit of finesse. AI is just part of the equation. It’s the art and science of insights. We as insights professionals need the ability to influence and continue to tell those human stories.”

Early-Stage Synergies

It is that interconnectedness and efficiency of AI and other tools, combined with those unique human elements and stories, that seem to intrigue and resonate the most with insights professionals. After all, as some point out, AI will become more familiar over time as another advanced tool to move the insights function forward.

“It’s an interesting juxtaposition for the biggest opportunities,” says Jennifer Avery, Senior Vice President, Strategy and Insights, NBC Universal Parks & Resorts. “You have a very human centered answer, providing a deep human understanding, and a technology centered answer, understanding the role of AI in insights. At some point, AI will become as pervasive in our daily lives as the Internet is. It will be the electricity that powers the operation. We are standing at the beginning of that, when it seems so uncertain and unknown to most of us, because it won’t be long until this becomes fully ingrained in our lives.”

Ultimately, it’s a debate worth having but there might not be one final answer to the question of AI versus human understanding. Both can enhance the process.

“How do we transform opportunities into reality?” asks Michael Nevski, Director Global Insights, Visa. “It begins with taking incremental steps. Start by crafting initial survey drafts or shaping discussion guides and harness the power of AI to analyze secondary research data. But remember, human oversight remains essential; it’s not the perfect solution, but it’s efficient. It’s a distinct challenge, but as researchers, we can initiate the journey with these small yet impactful steps and watch where they lead us.”

Brought to you by All Things Insights, this benchmarking Insights Spend & Trends Report showcases how insights leaders are changing mindsets, shifting priorities and spending allocations in the second half of 2023 as they balance their insights efforts with the latest technological developments.

Download the Insights Spend & Trends Report now.

Video courtesy of Neil Patel


  • Matt Kramer

    Matthew Kramer is the Digital Editor for All Things Insights & All Things Innovation. He has over 20 years of experience working in publishing and media companies, on a variety of business-to-business publications, websites and trade shows.


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