How did you get there? Nicola Stevens

Great to hear from Nicola Stevens who is Head of Insight at Close Brothers for motor and insurance finance, where she has created and established their first in-house research, insight, and strategy team. Her proudest moment is her team winning the AURA award for ‘Return on Investment of Insight’ in 2023, and when she’s not working, she’s probably building Lego, listening to music, or spending time with her family and cat.

I started my career in Marketing as it happens. After deliberately working across B2B, B2C and public sector I ended up moving from London to Yorkshire and then working for Capital One in Nottingham in their marketing team. Within a few months I’d spent so much time with their research team, desperate to truly understand target customers I decided to apply to be an insight manager when a role became available. That was in 2007 and quite frankly I have never looked back!

I stayed with Capital One as it transformed into a rounded insight function working alongside fabulous colleagues as we introduced CX measurement and design thinking innovation. After 10 years it was time to move on and I joined Close Brothers where over the last 7 years I’ve set up the insight team from scratch, to now supporting two businesses where we use insight to drive decision making.

IMPACT! There’s so much difference you can make to businesses and their customers. Without insights in their broadest sense, the decisions being made are either guesses or heavily biased in the perspective of the person making that decision – and they usually aren’t the target audience. Insights generated through data and research gives evidence, new angles, and a more rounded picture. I’ve seen time and time again how insight teams can influence decisions which result in better business outcomes and customer experiences.

It’s also such a varied industry so it gives you the chance to try out a range of things whilst still being part of the overall insight community. You can experiment, learn, and organically find your way to what you enjoy the most.

It was when I had to decide whether to stay at Capital One and take a very specific UX design researcher role or accept redundancy and create a fresh chapter. The needs of the business were changing and so were the insight roles. At the time becoming more specialised wasn’t right for me, I wanted to stay in a role with more methodological variety, so I took the plunge to move on. I’d been there 10 years, so it was hugely nerve-wracking. But having a few months off to reset, connect with former colleagues and give myself permission to imagine a new chapter was just what I needed and led me to setting up my current team.

The main thing that stays with me is the power of transferrable skills. Everyone is good at a ton of things but we’re not often as adept at recognising what those things are and how they can be useful in very different situations, roles, and sectors.  

I would say cultivate your curiosity and build confidence about being impartial.

Insight is all about asking questions – of your stakeholders, of your customers, even of your data. It’s incredibly rare that you are ever presented with a perfect brief first time. You need to be super curious about what your business needs to know, the decisions it’s going to make, and then question and translate the findings and data you get to turn them into something meaningful.

Don’t underestimate how useful it is to be impartial, whilst supporting your business. As insight professionals we must often champion those not in the room – the customers – or balance the contrasting needs and viewpoints of various departments. Impartiality also supports your credibility and reputation, so don’t be afraid of it. No-one will ever ask you to show and use impartiality, but every business I’ve ever worked in has needed that skill.

For me, as you can probably tell, it’s all about knowing what decisions we are influencing and overtly demonstrating where we have done so. Communicating how insights have helped shows colleagues and decision makers how they can benefit from what we offer. It’s a bunch of wins all round.

I have been fortunate to work alongside some downright brilliant people throughout my career. The notable mentions are Alex Owens who gave me my first insight role all those years ago, and Georgie White who was a manager and a mentor in those first early years of switching from marketing to insight. In recent years my marketing director Jill Hood has been a true advocate, she ‘gets’ that insight has most power when it’s used so has been one of my team’s best customers as well as a trusted source of advice and ideas.

For those reading this who are part of AURA, the Insight Management Academy or the MRS, you’ve helped me too. Every webinar, conference presentation, chat during a coffee break, or question asked at an event contributes to our community. Sharing ideas, successes, lessons learnt….they are all valuable in making our industry what it is, and supports each other.