Who Knows?

nose

We’ve all been there.  You can feel that THING growing in your nose.  You feel your nose swell up.  It is hot.  The skin is tight, stretched and painful.  When you rub your finger over it you can feel the thing, turgid, massive, disfiguring.  It must be on the point of exploding!  You can feel everyone looking at you.  The disgust in their faces.  You must look like Quasimodo at this stage….

Then you get to a mirror and……. where is it?  You can’t see anything.  Oh, well if you look really close it’s obvious, but just nothing like as big and disfiguring as it feels.  This has been impacting on you all morning.  You are full sure everyone was staring at your face.  But now you know it was all in your imagination.

Some things are like that.  Some physical attributes or character traits can dominate your life.  You are full sure that everyone can spot them and that they are judging you for those traits.  But often you are wrong.  Nobody even notices the things that cause you so much angst.  Those are not your real problem.

The real problems are the character traits and bad habits that you carry which are not on your radar, but are impacting on your life.  There are things we do without noticing that can severely impact on how others behave around us, and the opportunities opened to us.

I have seen people eat their meals with mouth wide open and half chewed food on display for all to see, with small flecks of their meal spraying freely across the table onto everybody else, on their clothes, on their food.  These are people who come from a family of open mouth eaters who are unaware of the impact it has on others.  They wonder why the boss did not bring them to dinner with an important client and why Dave, the junior analyst who chews with his lips together was tapped for the best contract of the year.

Personal habits are things we need to be aware of.  We need to be very aware of them in business situations.  Personal hygiene and grooming.  Clean and ironed clothes.  Down to polished shoes.

Habits that can drive others insane.  Noises such as constant tapping on tables, kicking chairs, sniffing, coughing and sneezing relentlessly.  Talking loudly on the phone, talking loudly on the mobile phone while walking up and down the office.

Selfish or inconsiderate usage of common facilities.  Leaving toilets in a disgraceful state.  Cooking smoked fish in the office microwave.  Leaving dirty dishes on your desk.  Stealing (borrowing) other peoples food. Regularly asking to borrow money.

Personal traits are a big issue.  You may come from a family that settles disputes by shouting at each other.  You can’t bring that to the office.  Nor can you ghost your boss and give colleagues the silent treatment.  Aggressive or over assertive behaviours were accepted back in the 1970’s or 80’s but not any more.  Passive-aggressive behaviours have endured, but do you no favours.

The big problem with all of these traits and habits is that normal polite people are reluctant to take you aside and tell you that you have a problem.  They will try to ignore it, or drop vague hints that fly totally over your head.  Your career stagnates, or goes into reverse, and you have no clue why.

I once attended a week long residential Executive Communications Workshop (Grid Management Training) where the week concluded with everyone being rated objectively by their peers.  It was a fantastic opportunity to hold a mirror up to myself and see how I was perceived by a room of strangers.

From “An Essay on Man: Epistle II” by Alexander Pope

I.
Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of mankind is man.
Plac’d on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise, and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the sceptic side,
With too much weakness for the stoic’s pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest;
In doubt to deem himself a god, or beast;
In doubt his mind or body to prefer;
Born but to die, and reas’ning but to err;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
Whether he thinks too little, or too much:
Chaos of thought and passion, all confus’d;
Still by himself abus’d, or disabus’d;
Created half to rise, and half to fall;
Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;
Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurl’d:
The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!

Insight

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.