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.

POEM

REGrant

Photo:  Richard E Grand in “How to get ahead in Advertising”

 

As anyone who reads my blog soon learns, I end each post with a poem.  The purpose of the poem is to trap emotion.  Poetry is emotion encapsulated in word.  This blog is a record of my emotional state at any given point in time.

However, I learned something very new about the POEM this week.  It is an analysis frame for tracking public relations communications in a firm.

The acronym stands for Paid, Owned and Earned Media.

Paid Media are the messages that we pay for, mostly falling under the terms “Advertising” and “Promotions”.  Advertising is sometimes referred to as “Above the Line” ATL communications, with Promotions being “Below the Line” BTL.

There is a bit of debate surrounding the origin of the terms ATL and BTL.  My preference is for the following explanation.  Under the agency system an ad agency presented a bill to the client every month.  The bill was in two parts above and below a line.  The top part, ATL, billed the advertising creative and media placement for the month.  In this section the ad agency would detail the full retail cost of the media placement if purchased on its own.  Because ad agencies place large volumes in media, they receive huge discounts against the retail cost.  They pass some of these discounts on to the client, depending on client size.  For large clients they are able to display how much the client saved that month by being with the ad agency ( as opposed to making their own ads and buying retail price media space).  So the bill to the Marketing Manager was traditionally presented as a saving.  The ATL costs came from the Marketing budget.

Promotional activities are discounted from the cost of sales.  So product vouchers, BOGOFs, 50% extra, half price offer etc all come from the sales budget rather than the advertising budget.  So the Marketing Manager did not have to spend this money.  As a result the BTL was of less concern.

With paid media you own the message but not the medium.  You might advertise your alcohol product in the middle of a programme about alcoholism, or your beautiful auto ad might follow a road safety ad.  The issue of message control, reach and message cost is central to media debates.  As a rule the more expensive the medium is, the more control we have, and the less reach we have.  We gain the greatest reach at the lowest cost in the media where we relinquish the most control.

Owned Media are those where we control both the medium and the message.  A corporate website, an annual report, product brochures etc.  In general it is not the kind of channel that sets the world ablaze, but we do retain ownership and control of both the medium and the message.

Earned Media is the bear trap.  This is the place where we can gain column inches for free, but the story is not under our control.  It may not be telling the message we want to get out there.  At the high control end we have trade magazines, which beg for copy to generate interest in the publication.  These publishers are unlikely to publish a savage dissection of a good advertising client.  At the other end of the scale is social media, where audiences will routinely hijack your message for their entertainment.  If this damages your company, brand or product they don’t care.  In the past the earned media environment was dominated by PR companies who seeded the media with positive news stories, and who attempted some form of damage control when a negative story hit the presses.  Nowdays it is increasingly in the digital space where sharing a squash club with a national newspaper editor carries no weight.  In this space everyone is still learning.

The Advertising Poem

A man wakes up after sleeping under an advertised blanket,

on an advertised mattress, pulls off advertised pajamas,

bathes in an advertised shower, shaves with an advertised razor,

brushes his teeth with advertised toothpaste, washes with advertised soap,

puts on advertised clothes, drinks a cup of advertised coffee,

drives to work in an advertised car, and then, refuses to advertise,

believing it doesn’t pay.

Later when business is poor, he advertises it for sale.

Why is it?

Unknown