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Avery Hennings on driving value from insights
Interviews with leaders

Avery Hennings on driving value from insights

We caught up with Avery Hennings, Lead Experience Specialist at Omobono, to talk about all things insights. How do you know when you’ve discovered a powerful new insight about your users? How can you maximise its value? And what are the most effective ways of communicating it?

Dan Robins
January 25, 2022

Avery recently rejoined Omobono as Lead Experience Specialist and has led research efforts both in-house and agency side. This interview is full of fascinating experiences and unique perspectives inspired by a career at the intersection of research, strategy and experience design. Let’s dive in…

Avery, how do you know when you’ve discovered a powerful new insight about your users?

So I think there's a helpful and an unhelpful answer to this question. The unhelpful version is that when you've been working in research for long enough, you almost get a sixth sense when you’ve found an insight that you know is crucial. You get to that point where your little spidey sense is telling you “aha, I’ve found my insight. I’ve found something that divides my audience, something I can use to build my strategy or an opportunity tree around.”

But I think the helpful version draws upon several considerations: 

- Does it allow you to draw a clear delineation between different behavioural groups of your audience? 

- How core to the persona's behaviour is that piece of insight?  

- How impactful can this insight be in terms of my overarching strategy for the experience I’m creating?

- Where does it fit in an audience’s hierarchy of needs?

- How much of an opportunity stems from this single piece of insight?’

For me, a really important insight defines everything you do from there onwards. You'll discover secondary and tertiary insights that are perhaps relevant to one particular audience or use case. Then there are the insights that are product or strategy defining, and when you've worked in research for a long time, you do get that spidey sense about it, and you can go, “this is going to be really important”.

And what’s next? How do you go about getting the most value out of this new found knowledge?

There's no point in gaining insight if you're not going to do anything with it. Part of the problem with user research today is that it gets done for the sake of it; we do it because we know we should. And you get to this point (and these are similar reasons as to why so many customer experience platforms and processes fail), where you're generating a lot of data, but you’re not getting value from it. 

So I think one of the worst things you can do is capture an insight inside something that needs to be versioned. What I mean by this is PowerPoint presentations, Word docs, videos etc. I find that as soon as you have something that has a physical file, or something that would need to be updated, it often loses that ongoing value.

I think this is why tools like Miro, Notion, and Dualo are going to be so important; because they are versioned, evergreen, repositories of information. As soon as you put something in a PowerPoint, that PowerPoint goes out of date, or the slides get lost on a drive somewhere, someone doesn’t have access, or it's in the wrong format. Sure, create the video, create a PowerPoint, but make sure the insight lives somewhere where it can continue to provide value and grow over time.

Are there any methods for communicating these findings that you’ve seen work particularly well in your career?

Really effective research is not just producing data, it's creating a story with that data, building empathy, and connecting it to the solution. This is particularly important when working with senior stakeholders, or any stakeholder who hasn't been directly involved in the process. 

I was working with a finance firm a couple of years ago, and I had an eye-opening interview with a business owner who worked in B2B furniture sales in the hotel industry. He explained that he’d had an absolutely life changing contract come in, but was unable to get finance to support it due to the fact that the funds would be coming in from a single client, and it would be extremely difficult to balance the books. And just like that, there was this crucial, high level insight on how financing like this was a real challenge for smaller businesses.  

So rather than simply sharing the insight with stakeholders, I communicated it in the format of a storyboard: 

“Everyone meet Frank. Frank picks up the phone, he's got a new contract, and it's going to be life changing - he’s one step closer to being able to hand down the family business to his son (this was true). In the next part of the story, the firm I was working with offered financing options for smaller businesses like Frank’s. The large contract went through, and it changed his life.“

So in essence, a story format was used to not only demonstrate how game changing it would be if corporate finance worked like that, but also to build empathy. 

The key thing for me is exploring how to build empathy through storytelling. Then it’s about making sure to keep those insights available in a format that will live evergreen, and continue to provide value in the future.

We’ve spoken a little about building repositories of insights within organisations in the past - in your mind, what’s the biggest challenge when it comes to ‘democratising’ insights?

For me, democratising is about allowing people to access insights in their own time, in an accessible format, and in a way that they can easily understand. 

It’s important to remember that your repository will likely have multiple audiences, and I think that as researchers we need to be researching how people will use it, and the way that they absorb insight - which can be a real challenge. So it’s important to consider how you should segment your data to ensure your repository is relevant for different audiences. 

The use of taxonomies can help significantly with this, but can be difficult to get right. So in the same way that we would design any information architecture, repositories need to fit the mental model of the people that are going to be using them, and it’s not one size fits all. 

Who are your stakeholders? How do they see the world? How did they come to this request? Your goal is for your audience to say, “I know what I need, and I can easily find that through your structure of navigation”.

Bonus question:
Are there any books or articles that have had a significant impact on your process or have led you to look at things from a different perspective?

A book I’ve been sharing more recently is Continuous Discovery Habits by Toresa Torres. I spoke a little earlier about ‘opportunity trees’ and how core insights connect together. It comes back to being able to tell if you've got a really crucial or game changing insight. Some of the principles this book encourages you to consider are: How big is your discovery? How big is your opportunity? How much impact does it create for you? Since reading the book, thinking in this way has had a fundamental impact on the way that I approach the discovery process. 

Another influential book which reflects where I sit as ‘part researcher, part strategist’ is Designing Connected Content by Carrie Hane and Mike Atherton. It’s about creating domain objects and reusable pieces of content, and seeing how those connect. It combines information architecture principles with strategy principles (in a similar vein to opportunity trees), and is a fundamental book to see how those two worlds sit together.

You can learn more about the process today’s best product organisations are following to level up their research operations by downloading a free copy of our User research is broken: A guide on how to level up your research operations playbook, available here.

About Dualo

Dualo is an insights hub used by digital product teams to get more repeatable value from their user research and insights, so that stakeholders can make informed and timely decisions across the organisation. If you're interested in learning more, please request a demo and a member of our team will be in touch.

Dan Robins

I’m a design, UX & strategy lead with a passion for storytelling. Proud member of Dualo’s founding product trio. Always seeking new inspiration.

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