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A structured guide to help insight and strategy professionals get maximum impact for their work and their organisation.
At Rainmakers CSI, we help our clients decide on their next move. This series of blogs aims to set out the most important stages for developing and delivering a strategic insight programme. Here we look at how to map the full landscape of where you are before you start doing any primary research, to ensure your project is focused and leads to action.
You’ve honed your brief and decided on what you need as a suite of deliverables. Now you are about to embark on your strategic insight project. Where next? Before you work out where you are going, you need to understand where you are now and where you are coming from – which is where landscaping comes in.
If you haven’t heard this phrase used, we should first explain exactly what we mean by landscaping. Before any insight programme starts, it’s vital to understand what you already know. Different companies talk about this in different ways. Often the words used to describe it depend on how comprehensive the stage is, so you might hear it described as mapping, scoping, a knowledge squeeze or an audit. Many companies will also talk about data synthesis – looking at your existing data and working out how it connects together, so defining the problem. But to us that’s just the start. All of these things are relevant and should happen at the outset of a project. However, we think it is important to take as wide a view as possible – not only to look at what you know, but also to identify what you don’t know and then to hypothesize where you could go. So, at Rainmakers we use the word landscaping to describe the broad scope of what we do to help you focus on your next move.
Scope all the information first
It is vital to gather this information at the outset, and to cast the net as wide as possible. For example, a few years ago we were developing a strategy for a fast-growing division of a client’s business. The question from them was “we think this category is one that can be a good pillar of our growth, but which of our products best fit with it and what is the potential gain if we do it right?”. We had a lot of their background information which we reviewed and digested before embarking on new research. However, about two-thirds of the way through the study, we discovered that the client had actually tested some of the products as part of a previous workstream. Although the context for this earlier research may have been different, it still provided valuable insight into what consumers’ preconceptions were when they came to that part of the category. It fundamentally changed our view of priorities and growth potential.
Another key part of landscaping is knowing what internal business parameters will impact the project’s outcomes. It’s no good demanding that the company’s operations immediately become plastic free if it has five years’ worth of plastic in stock and needs a significant lead time to re-engineer its processes. As the “voice of the customer” it’s important to champion key trends and consumer expectations, but recommendations need to place these in the context of what the business can actually do in the short and longer term.
What kind of information are we talking about?
You need to review research and data the business already has but also external information from published reports to articles, social media analysis and everything in between. Look beyond your category at adjacent areas to see what light these may shine on your current challenges. Stakeholder interviews are crucial, but it is also vital to look at broader market, social and economic trends and disruptors. We often use the PEST framework (political, economic, social and technological trends) to assess major external factors that could influence our client’s situation.
So, expect your consultants to give you a very clear list of what they need and then to put together a framework or storyboard of what the landscaping piece is going to look like. This might change as you delve into the data, but your agency must demonstrate that it’s going to have a commercial outcome. This is important – your chosen consultancy should be able to give you real examples of how landscaping can make a difference.
A minimum of three-steps
For landscaping to work, you need discipline. You want to be broad, but you also need to have some rigour in the way the process happens, step-by-step-by-step. Your chosen agency should be helping you plan this out.
By way of example, we recommend a minimum of three steps. Landscaping typically starts by mapping your information out to understand where you are now – identifying where the value is today, the areas that are growing, and who plays where. This can reveal markets, categories, or areas which seem exciting but are not financially viable, or which are very crowded. The second stage is to do some hypothesizing and opportunity development. In particular, look for spaces which offer potential for more innovative strategies. As well as looking at the existing data, we increasingly recommend semiotics work to stretch the horizons and help map the future. We’ll come back to this in a future blog. Then the third stage is to take the best of those opportunities, use the resources you already have to evaluate them, and figure out what else you’d need to know to decide where they might contribute to the growth strategy you’re looking to build.
Debunking the myths
So, if you are successful, by the time you finish the landscaping piece you’ll already have an idea of what the answer might be. Also, although it’s not often that you’ll find you were going down entirely the wrong path, you might need to revert to your original brief and check that the research you were planning still answers the questions you now have. More commonly, landscaping may change the direction a little bit but it’s more like putting the right guard rails up – providing some parameters for the journey ahead.
As we have discussed previously in this series, your strategy needs to be clearly communicated and supported with evidence. The idea is to get internal alignment with your stakeholders – taking them from “I think” to “we know”. A successful landscaping project means that you will be able to back up decisions about the direction of the project with supporting data. This makes internal conversations more focused; it becomes very hard for anyone to disagree with the direction when you have the evidence. Companies all have internal stories and myths. Landscaping takes those company myths, explores them, and evidences or explodes them.
The value of external perspectives
Landscaping can be done in-house by the insights team, but it is often most helpful to get an external perspective on the information. Strategic insight consultants can bring additional experience of other categories and markets. Look for a partner that can demonstrate broad experience of landscaping projects like this and that they can provide the mix of strategic planning and analysis skills to deliver what you need.
Often, landscaping is followed up by primary research to explore the opportunities which have been unearthed, but it can also provide the basis for really clear strategic decisions without actually having to do any additional research. One possible outcome is that landscaping identifies some specific gaps in your knowledge. For example, you may find you have no data on a particular target group or geographical market. Or you can use the process to work out how to design and structure the content of any follow-on research – looking at evolving trends, combining data analysis and semiotics, working out what to put in a questionnaire. You might have always anticipated that you need a big strategic, quantitative research study in order to refresh your knowledge. In this case landscaping will help focus that study.
There are also times you genuinely don’t want a strategic answer right now but need a framework in order to develop one. In this case, landscaping will provide your stakeholders with a map that you can use as the support for future ideas and development.