January 24, 2019

What is a modern insight agency?

Last July I decided to change my country, my company and my clients. I left Asia after 6 years and came home looking for change... Since then I’ve had more existential, and often late night, conversations than at any time of my life since I hung out with philosophy students at uni... What is a modern Insight agency? What role do we play? What role could we play? What even is the point of an agency? How can we really really help clients?

Four things keep coming up. Most are things all agencies will say they do. 3 months spent asking the big questions tells me very few are nailing it.

1. Impact. Impact. Impact

Love, Equity, Affinity, Insight, UX, Behaviour Economics, Data, Dashboarding, Communities, Social, Ecosystems... none of it means anything without impact.

It’s surprising and even a little depressing. I’ve asked dozens of clients the same question - what are you missing from your agencies? And so often the same answer; Impact. Stories. Narrative. Board Support. Insight as an industry has still not got this nailed… although I’m certain this point will not be new to any of us.

The moment I decided to join Blue Yonder was when I was shown a piece of work, and I didn’t know whether it was an ad, a documentary, or a piece of content marketing. It certainly wasn’t a debrief. And yet it was done by an Insight agency, and included all the elements of great insight work + one key ingredient: Impact. I then learned that it was on the phone of the SVP of one of the worlds most famous brands and, having been shown to the board, was routinely shown to stakeholders, customers and teams around the world to prove her simple point, and drive her important action. You can’t do that with ppt. You can’t even do it with a workshop or a pen portrait.

Insight’s work is only done when the person with a decision to make is inspired to act, is given the confidence to act.

The modern agency spends as much time on impact as it does on generating the insight. This is about more than having a creative team. It's about truly understanding how the client's business works (and then hiring a creative team!)

2. Why people get so excited when they say the words ‘start up’.

‘The Start Up Way’ by Eric Reis is a wonderful book. I’ve learned how to pivot and the simple brilliance of an MVP. The book also says roughly that ‘the modern company has two parts - one is dedicated to the constant perfection of the core. The other is dedicated to the future, the next core”. And do you need to be a tech wizard to find the new core? Nope. You need to be a wonderful listener and a wonderful doer. Hear a need, meet a need. It really is that simple (if you ignore all the grit, determination, networking and imagination is needs!) If you’ve never met someone like this, let me introduce you to my new mate.. Jonathan Million.

3. We need to talk about data.

I’ll keep this one simple. An agency shouldn’t be able to differentiate itself based on high quality, accurately recruited, rich, nuanced, easily accessed, easily visualised, immediately available data. But it can.

4. A buzz word is only a buzz word if it loses meaning for the person saying it

So we’re not allowed to talk about ecosystems anymore. It’s parse. Let’s call it network instead, because that’s what it is. An agency shouldn’t measure growth in turnover or number of people it should measure it in the quality and breadth of it’s network.

I’ve had my preconceptions of growth challenged. I used to measure it in volume of people and money. Why worry about acquisitions or creating new departments, when you can just make new friends, and work together to help the client? I used to believe that this was expensive. It is when everyone is adding 20%. But if two equal parties have synergistic skills and equal hunger to grow, impact the industry and create value for clients, it is very hard to compete with. It's also how a relatively small group of people can help both local gems and some of the world's biggest brands really fly.

And so the learning goes on. Impact. Entrepreneurship. Data Quality. Networks... They sound like decent foundations for an agency to me.

Richard Heath
Managing Director