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.

Digital Etiquette

WiFi manners

A very valid question is posed above.  When it comes to insights I often default to this one:  “When you go home to your mothers house, do you ever walk into the kitchen, open the fridge and have a good look at what is in there?”

It is amazing how this simple insight makes people smile, most recognise the behaviour as something they do.  It would be an incredibly rude thing to do with a friend or colleage, but we all do it when we go home to visit Mom, or as we Dubliners call her “de Ma”.  The fridge is a symbol for a whole raft of emotions around security, contentment, care and love.  A packed fridge is a welcome home, mothers bounty, always there in case of need.  It is a visual symbol of a mothers love for her children.

My own mother is old and putting it kindly one might say she is a little forgetful these days.  Now when I open the fridge it is to ensure that she is being cared for.  That is sad.  It makes the house a cold and clinical place to know we can’t just turn up and root out a lunch from the contents.

Food etiquette is central to how we interact with others.  Toilet etiquette is not far behind.  You don’t arrive into a persons house and just march straight to the bathroom, unless you are in a very bad state.  Excusing yourself to the bathroom entails a complex code of doubletalk, innuendo and social manners.

Sasha Baron Cohen, in the character of Borat, uses our ‘delicacy’ around bathroom issues as a source of comedy, as in this video, about 3.30 in:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PebL4qCGK1w

Bathroom etiquette requires that we mask our purpose,  We talk of bathrooms and toilets, which were originally places for washing.  We should be asking for the W.C. and indeed this is considered to be polite in upper class English circles. The Queen uses a WC. Other, lesser people, refer to the Loo, the Ladies, the Gents, the little girls/boys room, the Facilities, the Washroom, John, Khazi, Dunny and so on.

Now we have the thorny issue of WiFi to worry about.   As a good host are you expected to give up your access code?  As a guest is it polite to ask for it?  Are you going to spend the dinner party gazing into your smart phone?  When is it proper for a host to ask you to leave the phone in a box for the evening?  If your host asks you to put your phone away should you be mortified and apologetic, or is it OK to tell them to go to hell because they are just Luddites?

Table manners for food and toilets are established and are a still a social minefield.  Phone and WiFi manners are still in flux and are constantly evolving.  One thing is very sure, lots of people are using their time in the bathroom to check up on their live feed!  I just hope they wash their hands first.

Moving on

Chateau Magnol - gift box
Left John Player yesterday. Moving on to MCCP.
Had a really nice send-off. The GM Andy Meagher gave a very complimentary speech and the staff presented me with a lovely case of pretty good wine. Sampled one last night, and it is very pleasant. Chateau Magnol 2007 from B&G.
The last big thing we did was to launch JPS Black in the Irish Market. I will be keeping an eye on that one, because I think it has the potential to do great things, albeit in the limited context of one of the most tightly regulated markets in the world.
It will be a relief to get back to bright markets, where I am permitted to communicate with customers. My specialisation is understanding how consumers use products and services to express their own self identity. Having that understanding gives you little, if any advantage, in a dark market.
In recent months I came to realise that my role was becoming more and more focused on sales metrics rather than consumer insight. The time was right to move on. Understanding sales dynamics is well and good, but I don’t want to work long term in sales support.
This morning there was a hard frost. The grass should have stopped growing and the leaves are falling from the trees. It is time to sharpen the secateurs and begin pruning the apple trees. Changing job is the career equivalent to winter pruning for the fruit trees. There is an opportunity to reshape the tree, taking out dead or inefficient branches and making room for the high yield shoots.
So, in the coming weeks I will be examining my own career tree to see what branches need some work, and which ones can be pruned back. I wonder what the new me will look like. I also hope we get some apples next year.

A Song On the End of the World; by Czeslaw Milosz
translated by Anthony Milosz
On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.

On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.

And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.
And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
No other end of the world will there be,
No other end of the world will there be.