It may seem like a basic question, but when I ask “what is an insight?” I get a plethora of answers. So I set out to answer the question myself.
When I started my career it was very much in the realm of data processing and information retrieval. Data as the raw material and information as the analysed and summarised outcome. I then moved to the qualitative side of market research back in the days when we called it research.
Somewhere along the way data processing was seen as too old fashioned, and everybody wanted “data mining” and “big data expertise”. Qualitative market research findings were no longer sexy. They had to be “Insights”.
Over the years I have seen a lot of simple data, summarised information, behavioural observation, behavioural understanding and product improvement which were presented as “GROUND BREAKING INSIGHTS”.
So here is my simple view of the world: “If it doesn’t change consumer behaviour it’s not an insight.”
The short version of this article is that Insights need to be behavioural, emotional, true (credible), relevant, original, ownable and measurable.
The World of Compromise
We live in a world of limits and compromises. There are many things we would like to do better. When somebody shows us a better way we adopt it quickly. Many of the greatest inventions in history are so obvious once seen that a common reaction to them is “Why didn’t I think of that?”
The insight comes from seeing how people behave and understanding that their behaviour is a compromise from the ideal. The inventor then leverages the insight to produce the product that changes behaviour.
Recently I worked on a project with a major packaging manufacturer. They spent a day in a busy bakery observing workers in action. They noticed two things in particular.
- Existing product (a frozen part-baked bread range) was stored in large cartons that were very heavy to lift. They needed to be removed from the freezer to open them.
- Once lifted out of the freezer the staff were reluctant to put them back in. Product left in the hot kitchen began to thaw and spoilage rates were high.
The engineers set about addressing these two insights. They designed a new freezer carton which could be opened in-situ in the freezer. The staff could remove only the product they needed for immediate baking. This innovation changed how the staff in the kitchen behaved. It made life much easier for them, so it qualifies as insight.
The change also reduced the levels of product spoilage. This is process improvement (but not necessarily insight). It improves profit levels for the client.
There is a nice roundedness to this outcome. The Client makes more profit, and is consequently more likely to work with the packaging company again. The staff have an easier time in work, so they are happy with the change. The customers of the bakery are less likely to receive a sub-optimal product, so they will enjoy their bread and come back for more.
The world of needs and wants
Anyone who studies marketing 101 learns about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. As you rise on the pyramid you move from needs to wants. If you are purely needs driven then you are unfortunate in modern society. Most humans have moved beyond a daily struggle for Water, Food, Shelter and Security.
We live in a world of choice, which is good in one way and bad in another. Everyone, even the richest billionaire, faces resource constraints. In simple terms there is more “stuff” out there than we can afford. If you want it all, and want it now you will be disappointed. You have to make trade-offs.
The early trade-offs are easy. Do you eat food this week or do you take a spa day? Starving people don’t take spa days. If you are needs driven then the need wins out.
In a wants driven society there are many people who forgo food and trade it off for a day at a spa. They call it a diet, or a detox. They don’t “need” food, so it becomes something they can trade off.
In the world of needs and wants “Insights” are clues to how trade-offs will work. This is the realm of Economic Behaviourism. It is a weird and wonderful place where people frequently make sub-optimal decisions which make no sense on paper.
In this world your best clue that you are dealing with actual “insights” is emotion. Insights are born in the Freudian Id, what popular psychologists refer to as the Inner Child, the Primitive Brain or the Lizard Brain.
If your research uncovers useful data you will see people nod sagaciously as they consider how to use the findings in the business. They will see the relevance of your findings to others, but not usually to themselves.
If your research is insightful your audience will be excited, emotional and immersed. You will hear phrases such as “that is sooooo true!” “That is so me!” “I do that all the time” etc. It is real, truthful and personal in a way that data and information never are.
Paying the piper
Insights are fantastic as long as the client can use them to make money. As a result there are a few boxes you have to tick when you present your insights:
Relevance: they have to change consumer behaviour in relation to your client’s product.
Originality: there is no advantage to being the second company to leverage an insight.
Ownership: if your client can own the insight territory this has potential for huge market share gains. Most innovations are easily copied by the competiton. Branding is less easy to copy. Insights and Branding are two peas in the same pod.
Measurability: I have seen brilliant insights that have come to nothing because they could not be applied to the customer record data. It is pointless having something that changes the lives of 25 year old female insurance buyers if the client does not collect customer age and gender in the sales process.