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Insights Leaders Weigh AI With Cautious Optimism

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The H2 2023 report reveals that the insights discipline is starting to spotlight a shifting perspective, especially when it comes to new technology such as AI. Generative artificial intelligence has risen quickly in the marketplace and the mindset of the insights professional. This has impacted both the client and vendor side of the business. For vendors, just how to evolve their services and incorporate AI into the mix is one aspect of developments. For clients, it’s a question of how to develop sound tactics and strategies for using AI, and whether to bring functions in-house or to farm it out to third-party providers.

“As things like Gen AI come on to the radar screen, the industry seems like it’s trying to approach it through a positive lens, aiming to understand how we can leverage it to maximize our impact as opposed to having it scare us away,” says Cherie Leonard, Senior Director of NA Insights, Colgate-Palmolive.

Supporting Insights

Just how to leverage the new AI technology is still at play in the insights function. What can it enhance for the insights discipline? What can it bring to understanding the consumer? What are the opportunities and challenges?

“AI is going to represent a shift change in the research industry that we haven’t seen in a long time. It won’t ultimately replace what we do, but it’s going to help us be more efficient at what we do. Right now, it feels a little bit like the Wild West, everyone’s trying to figure it out,” says Cory Lommel, Director of Consumer Insights, Cargill.

When asked, “In order for insights to gain/keep a seat at the strategic table, what should your company/insights function start doing?” 35% of survey respondents said bringing AI into the function is one of their top priorities. This was the fourth preference in the survey results, behind only become better storytellers, sharpen consulting skills across the insights function, and proactively develop foundational research plans to support overall company strategy, which were all tied at 48%.

Clearly, AI has risen fast in the survey this year, from an initial growing awareness of the technology and tools available to more specific planning on just how to use AI and where it fits into the overall strategy for insights managers at their respective organizations.

“It does seem as if we are at an inflection point where early adopters are jumping in and figuring out how to use this tool. 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,” says Jennifer Avery, Senior Vice President, Strategy and Insights, NBC Universal Parks & Resorts.

In terms of the biggest opportunities in the insights function, 61% of those surveyed said “understanding the role of AI in insights.” This was the top selection for survey respondents to the question. Clearly, we are at the early stages of adoption, or at least initial experimentation, with this new technology. Many might be in the test phase of their efforts. The ramifications for the future of the discipline are yet to be determined, but the insights industry seems positive and optimistic (65% of survey respondents) that market research roles will improve, thanks to AI’s benefits.

“The insights function, even though we’re toying around with AI today, can take full ownership. We’re going to help not only set the strategy for our team for generative AI, but we also want to help the rest of the organization. How do we help set up their view of generative AI?” observes Justin Coates, Head of Global Market Research & Consumer Insights, Eastman.

Assessing Challenges

With this focus on new technology, insights managers are also balancing their optimism with caution. They are evaluating the new technology while still being careful in how to implement it. About 70% say they are undergoing light exploration of AI, while 13% say they have integrated the technology. Meanwhile, 9% say that AI is already fully embedded in their organization.

“Given how game changing AI and machine learning have been at large, there’s a lot of optimism about how it could influence and help to improve market research efforts,” says Jordan Cusner, Head of Guest Insights, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen.

Still, despite the initial excitement, the insights discipline seems level-headed when it comes to recognizing potential benefits and challenges in terms of AI. As they look to use AI to support storytelling with data (68%) and operational efficiency (55%), insights managers seem fully cognizant of over-reliance on AI as well as several other challenges. These issues include legal/IP implications, data quality, training/education, lack of strategy and ethics—all of which scored high in the Insights Report survey when it comes to challenges. So while AI remains a hot topic, clearly several issues need to be addressed before insights teams fully embrace the technology.

Just what types of strategies and use cases will develop through AI is yet to be determined in the marketplace, as insights managers adapt to the new technology.

“Understanding the role of AI in the insights function? I think everyone’s trying to figure that out. No one’s nailed it yet,” says Karen Kraft, Associate Director, Consumer Insights & Analytics, Johnsonville.

The pace of change is only accelerating as AI evolves. One thing is for sure: Like many industries, the insights world is looking to adapt and embrace this new paradigm, without getting left behind in the process.

“This technological evolution is unlike any we have encountered when we consider the pace of change. What’s different about it is the continued innovation. It’s not like the world had ChatGPT and then it stopped. The innovation that’s continuing to happen is exponential. There are more players every day, and more models are getting more efficient. We’re just at the tip of the iceberg from the point of view of what we can do with it,” says Kathryn Topp, CEO, Yabble.

In the second half of 2023 and moving into the new year, look for insights teams to aim to improve their operations, potentially with AI tools and technology, while still maintaining traditional tactics as they look to enhance their impact and influence on the business.

Download the Insights Spend & Trends Report H2 2023 now.

Video courtesy of Bloomberg Originals

Contributor

  • 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.

    View all posts

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