What does Peyton Manning know about consumer insights?

Peyton Manning was the all-star Thursday morning keynote closing out this year’s TMRE conference. As one of my all-time favorite sportspeople, I was thrilled to see him on the agenda. But I was also skeptical. What could an NFL quarterback tell us about business and consumer insights that would be relevant? It turns out quite a bit.

Manning delivered a rich and thoughtful talk that was motivating on both a professional and personal level, covering several approaches that helped him achieve the great successes in his career. Here’s four that particularly resonated with me.

Preparation

Preparation is Manning’s secret weapon. His on-field (and now post NFL life) successes are shaped by ‘relentless preparation’ and ‘focused attention’; covering all angles from self-reflection to knowing every aspect of his team and his opponents. Winging it is not an option. You need to plan, prepare and act. In Manning’s world, if you can’t solve a problem from every possible angle, you aren’t prepared. You need to know everything about what you are up against. We could all benefit from this dedication to preparation.

Ask

NFL teams have multiple data streams to analyze their players every movement and optimize performance. New data from technological innovations range from smart helmets monitoring head-to-head impact to shoulder pad chips providing metrics on how fast and hard the player is running. Yet Manning talked about the need to ask – ask the right questions of the right people at the right time. The data and the analysis from the innovations are useful, but you must talk to the players. Understand who they are, get to know them and their motivations. This is much like what we need to do within consumer insights.

Return to basics

You may not expect a five-time MVP, 14-time Pro-Bowl player who holds the record for most touchdown passes, among many others, to spend the offseason practicing the most elementary aspects of football, such as the ‘snap.’ However, that’s exactly what he did. Year after year he returned to practice those basics with his former college coach, believing you can never stop working on the most fundamental elements. In his case those fundamentals are the ‘snap,’ in ours, it’s how to ask questions that will give you the answers you seek. How to evaluate the sample source to understand inherent biases. Our basics ensure that the data you receive is a reliable basis for the business decisions made from them.

Failure

In a previous blog, I commented that we don’t talk enough about failures when there’s so much we can learn from them. So, I sat up and took note when Manning talked about a few of his, most notably setting the quarterback rookie record for throwing the most interceptions. A whopping 28 – a record he unhappily still holds today. In overcoming failure, he talked about the need to ‘get back to zero.’ Learn from it and then erase it from your mind. You cannot let setbacks paralyze you. There’s always an opportunity to come back.

What does this mean for consumer insights?

Aside from a fascinating glimpse into the thinking of an extremely successful sportsperson, the ideas Manning shared have clear application to our world:

  • Be prepared, not just in meeting our daily roles and responsibilities but also in meeting the future. We need to continually evaluate business needs, what we can provide and how we can provide it. In essence, we need to know everything that we are up against, current and future, and from every angle.
  • Asking is at the core of what we do. While big data offers a new lens to understand our customers, it does not replace the need to ask. We need to ask to get to know people, to understand their world, and uncover their truths.
  • Don’t bypass the basic principles guiding good research. We need to continually brush up on how to ask good questions and how to evaluate the data in order to ensure the correct inferences and business decisions are made.
  • Finally, let’s talk more about failure. It offers unique opportunities to learn and guide our future endeavors. Then we can get ‘back to zero’ and move on.

While Manning was an unexpected consumer insights keynote speaker, the outside perspective on principles and challenges that impact us all, regardless of profession or industry, provided a refreshing way to think about our challenges and how to approach them.

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