Finding great insight can be incredibly valuable, but if that insight isn’t being meaningfully deployed and isn’t generating a commercial return, then what’s the point?

With budgets being squeezed the way they are, how can we stop this from happening and build more effective insight teams?

In our experience there are two broad types of client insight team:

Teams who have a clear view of the commercial issue(s) and are looking for a clear solution, vs. those with a loyalty to specific methodologies who commission research projects.

Where we see insight-based work being most valuably used inside a business, it’s usually with teams who have the more commercial approach. They see themselves as users of insight to orchestrate commercial impact. Their start point is strategic direction for commercial return and their toolkit is insight.

Here are some tips drawn from the teams we see doing it best:


Top teams push their internal stakeholders hard. They seek to establish both the real business question, as well as the commercial return attached to finding a good answer.

This way, they are much better able to navigate the methodological landscape. If you’re not sharp on the issue, then how do you know what approach to use? Most teams have limited resources and need to be selective.

Getting the maximum understanding for your research buck requires you to be especially clear on the issue at hand.

If you don’t already do this, then start spending as much time thinking about the business problem as you do the research objectives. At a time when everyone wants twice as much in half the time, you will make life much easier if you get to the nub of the issue quickly. Importantly, you’ll make it much easier for your agencies to help you get there.


Commercially savvy insight teams don’t play in the dark. They ensure they are familiar with all of the instruments at their disposal, so that when required, they can quickly assemble the correct arrangement for any given situation. They already know who the methodological equivalent of the best trombone player is; they know which violin will work best, when the clarinet is needed and when it isn’t.

They’re ok stretching their methodological comfort zones at a personal, team and business level and have a clear point of view on how different methodologies can contribute to a more complete commercial understanding.

They’re continually evaluating how their agency partners stack up. Where their strengths and limitations lie and whether a partner is nimble and open-minded enough to combine owned methodologies with other agency partners to build better solutions, including the extent to which they bring incremental value.

If there are instruments in your orchestra you feel less familiar with, now is the time to find out more.


Impactful teams advocate for what they believe is right and work to align resources behind that view.


They do this because they’ve thought hard about what the business needs, about whom their stakeholders are and, importantly what they need. Consequently they are clear on what will work and are comfortable to stand by their choices. But it can be hard work advocating for the right approach so they build up a team around them for support. Here’s how they do it:

They pick the right soldiers. They work with agency teams who have integrity as well as a desire to help their clients succeed, an agency prepared to champion more innovative approaches and methodologies.

They encourage provocation. They know they aren’t just buying an agency’s ability to run a project, they are buying their strategic savvy, so they value and encourage partnerships that challenge and stretch their own thinking.  

They ask for the best brains. They ensure they have ready access to those individuals within the agency who have the requisite experience for the task at hand. They foster an open and respected partnership rather than a supplier approach. 

They get everyone close to the business priorities. They invest time being clear with agency partners around what the real challenge is, why it matters to the business and what the business will do as a result, this enables agency partners to respond in the most meaningful way.

They say ‘NO’. They have the confidence of their convictions. They will advocate for a new approach where it can meaningfully applied, but they will also have the confidence to say ‘NO’ if they think a fashionable tool is about to be misapplied.


Insight that sticks is introduced early and shaped collectively.

As much as we all love the ‘big reveal debrief’, a truly consultative working style works best with the most commercial clients.

These clients know their internal stakeholders don’t stop thinking about an issue because it’s ‘in-field’. They prioritise keeping stakeholders in the loop as learning is emerging. It’s not a big job, but feeding in regular small snippets of insight starts to seed some of the bigger challenges that may need to be tackled. It primes stakeholders for the final output.

They also work actively with their agencies to shape the type of output that will land best internally.


This type of ‘raw’ working is why we have huge walls of Perspex in our office. It’s where we do our thinking and start to shape our final recommendations.

We work with the clients to collectively own the thinking – shaping it in a way that is likely to enhance its impact and efficacy. Not only does it save our insight clients a huge amount of time - removing the need to translate a debrief into a commercial document but critically, it accelerates the speed at which the findings can be actioned.

If your agency isn’t asking you to help them shape the final output, they should be. And you should be asking to be a part of that conversation. Any agency worth their salt will be continually thinking about your challenge and will be able to offer you a point of view on how things are shaping up throughout the process. They’ll have the confidence to want you integrated into the project and the savvy to know it’ll make for much better output.

Much like we believe the most potent insight comes from joining the dots between multiple sources, we also believe the most impactful insight teams are the ones actively orchestrating how to join the dots between insight and their business needs.

It’s why at The Forge we believe Insight isn’t found. Insight is Forged.