Christie Hickman Q&A: New VP of market insights at OIA aims to provide real-time and predictive data

Find out why historical data isn't enough these days in operating a successful outdoor business.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2013 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show July 31 – Aug. 3. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

Hindsight is 20/20.

QA_ChristieHickman

While historical data provides good fodder for discussion and debate of what went right or wrong with a business plan, dwelling on the past can leave leaders a step behind for what lies ahead.

As more business decisions need to be made in real time or well ahead of the curve, today’s data and research must be available for the same time frame, Christie Hickman tells us.

The new Outdoor Industry Association vice president of market insights aims to bring more real-time and predictive data to the industry, as well as provide research beyond the numbers.

With her previous work at J.D. Power and Associates, and other experiences dealing with big-name brands such as Microsoft, Sony and Nike, Hickman brings 20 years of research, insight and strategy experience to OIA.

Tell us about your new job at the Outdoor Industry Association.
The primary focus of my role at OIA is to drive the overall strategic direction for the association’s research offerings. The vision is to create a best-in-class market insights department that delivers actionable tools, communications and strategies to help members keep pace with the rapid changes in the marketplace and with consumer needs and expectations. The first step in this process is to conduct a comprehensive audit of OIA’s current market research and consumer insight tools. Through a series of member interviews to understand their market research needs and applications, as well as an assessment of member usage of the current offering, we will be able to identify gaps in our program. This learning will ultimately drive our strategic plan for the evolution of our market insights program.

How do you plan to evolve/expand OIA’s research offerings?
The ideal future state of our offering is one that is segmented, predictive and actionable. Our products need to better align with the very diverse needs of our membership. In order to achieve this, we need to identify where the commonalities are in terms of market insight needs and target our research portfolio to these distinct segments of our members. Additionally, we want to provide a deeper-level knowledge of the changing outdoor consumer and emerging trends, beyond just the data and the outdoor industry. We plan to arm our members with the predictive insights they need to drive strategic decisions and action in support of their business objectives.

What type of data and research interest OIA members most these days?
While historical data certainly has its value, the need for real-time insight is becoming increasingly important in such a dynamic business environment. Companies today can’t afford to wait around for data to be gathered and reports to be assembled. They need to be much more nimble in order to react quickly to shifts happening in the marketplace. Predictive analytics, to help identify emerging trends and uncover potential market opportunities, are also a common interest of members. And the convoluted nature of the path to purchase, driven by the proliferation of e-commerce, has created the need for better understanding around consumer purchase behavior.

How are technology and social media changing real-time research gathering and consumption?
There are so many resources, tools and platforms out there for getting information that access to data is no longer the key challenge. What many businesses are struggling with is how to translate the data and leverage it to make informed business decisions. OIA’s intent, from an insights perspective, is to play a much stronger consultative role in helping our members apply market and consumer learning to their defined business objectives. By pushing our market insights beyond just data, we hope to provide a more solutions-based offering to support a wide range of business applications, from operations and marketing to product development and innovation.

Considering the above, do you think there is there a point when people and businesses get too caught up in the data?
I do, and I’ve seen it happen a lot. It’s really easy to get caught up in the numbers and lose perspective of the big picture — particularly when you are so close to the subject matter. I believe intuition and logic play an important role in analysis and strategy development. People often forget or discount the fact that they have personal insight or experience that may be of value. The most progressive thinkers are those who allow their instincts into the process because it opens up possibilities that wouldn’t be considered if they relied solely on the data. While it’s important that all strategy is grounded in validated insight, having an open mind to the full potential of opportunity is what allows innovation to happen.

--David Clucas

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