Insight Imperative

Part 1: The Importance of Insights

Consumer insights are the driving cog of all good marketing work; from new-product development to positioning, branding, packaging, promotions, etc.

It’s about going beyond the obvious to get to the core of consumers’ needs and understand more deeply what drives their behavior. 

Despite the importance of insights to much—if not all—of what we as marketers and innovationistas do, there still seems to be some disagreement across, and even within, companies as to:

  • What an insight is.
  • What a good insight is.
  • What a leverageable insight is.

Some of the options that we’ve come across include:

  • A meaningful consumer need-gap that can be addressed.
  • A latent consumer need that is discovered and articulated.
  • A BIG Ah-Ha—the uncovering of a key, consumer-relevant learning.
  • A consumer need with a “Wow!” factor.
  • A meaningful consumer need and the deeper, Ah-Ha understanding of what is driving that need.

Webster says an insight is, “The ability to perceive the true or hidden nature of things.” We might tweak it just a bit to say that the insight we’re really interested in is, “An opening into the true or hidden nature of things that drives to a marketing opportunity and/or creates advantage for us.

We’ve noticed over the years the evolution in the “laddering-up” of consumer understanding that has led to the current emphasis on consumer insights. It started in positioning.

  • Product Features to Functional Benefit: Understanding the key product or service features consumers wanted, then laddering up to the functional benefit they gained. 
  • Functional Benefit to Emotional Benefit: Functional benefits were then laddered up to understanding the “why” behind that, or the emotional benefit consumers experienced.
  • Emotional Benefit to Insight: Finally, that laddered-up to the driving insight—the consumer experience, attitude, belief or truth that was causing or creating this need, and setting the stage for the product benefit to matter significantly to the consumer.

By going from product features to a functional benefit then to an emotional benefit and finally to insight, you build a watertight logic trail that creates a more motivating positioning in the market.

Marketers have learned that this higher order consumer understanding becomes the common thread and guiding nugget that integrates all of their marketing efforts into a unified marketing strategy for a product or a brand. It is the reference point that keeps your efforts focused on what the consumer truly wants and needs.

That is why virtually all stages of Ideas To Go’s ideation sessions include a focus on meaningful insights.  

  • Broad Opportunity Identification: At the front end, uncovering the needs, wishes and insights of customers to identify and clarify key areas of opportunity.
  • Idea Generation:  Making sure consumers and clients are focused on the identified need and driving insight as they co-create ideas.
  • Concept Development: At the back-end of ideation, good concept definitions all begin with agreement on the key consumer insight—whether it is a concept for a Development Platform, New Product, Positioning, etc. 

So how do you uncover these important expressions of consumer needs? What have you experienced while developing insights and consumer marketing efforts? Please share your stories in the comments.

Part 2: How to Get to Motivating Insights

The most meaningful and motivating ideas to consumers are those that are created from true consumer insights—the deeper understanding, the “why” behind the consumer’s need. Often these insights are the guiding light for an entire marketing effort.

Here are a couple of insights we uncovered from our Creative Consumers® associates in a brief online homework assignment we had them complete in 2009 regarding two current topics—Social Media and the Recession:

  • “The broader my world becomes through all my networks and connections, the more I worry about missing out on something.” - Male Boomer, regarding Social Media and the need to be connected 24/7.
     
  • “It is hard for me to think about the future.  I have enough trouble getting through today or this week.” - Male Millennial, regarding financial priorities and planning in the early recession.
     
  • “Spending money on my kids feels like a good investment in the future.” - Female, GenXer regarding her need to prioritize spending in the recession. 

Our research shows that keeping the following values and qualities in mind will drive us to better, richer, deeper insight development: 

Great insights will often display one or more of the following values:

  1. Understanding: Perceptive, fundamental, universal.
  2. Frankness: Honesty, reflect ideals and principles.
  3. Curiosity: Open-minded, seeking, discovery.
  4. Wisdom: Intuition, inspiring, sage.
  5. Courage: Ground-breaking, risk-taking, pioneering.
  6. Pathos: Empathy, sympathy, selflessness.

We know we’re getting to a better place when we start seeing some of the following qualities of great insights

  • Consumer Connectivity: Relevance, has empathy, or depth of understanding.
  • Newness: Unexpected and fresh.
  • Time Dimension: Enduring, has legs.
  • Elicits Action: Motivating and compelling.
  • Evokes Emotion: Inspiring, intriguing, or involving.
  • Helps to Differentiate: Leads to competitive advantage.

And some great guidelines for expression

  • Succinct, concrete, and descriptive.
  • Uses few words to communicate most important information. So they must be simple and easy to understand.
  • Compellingly communicates the “lead.”
  • Expresses insight as a consumer would say it and relate to it – no forced articulations or marketing speak.

Easily said, right? So, how do you go about uncovering these key insights? It’s not as easy as simply asking your customers what they want. Quite often consumers are not conscious of what is driving their need, so it takes some digging to get to the root of the problem or desire. Here are some techniques we have found effective in ideation: 

  • Work with insightful, articulate consumers. Most consumers find it difficult to see and articulate insights, but there are a unique few that are very good at it. Find them and bring them to the table. (Note—don’t actually have a table when you ideate with consumers. Strange as it may seem, it puts up barriers inhibits people from opening up, being vulnerable and sharing their true feelings).
  • Have consumers do a pre-work assignment to explore an area from multiple perspectives. Ask them to dissect and inspect their daily behaviors, regimens and routines. What do they do?  What don’t they do? Why? What is working? What’s not? What do they wish for or desire in an experience? How do they feel about their experiences? Breaking their experiences down in this way gets to the root of the need.
  • Observe and ask why. Sometimes it makes sense to go to consumer’s homes, or even go out to shop with them. Observe what they do and have them explain what they are doing and why they are doing it.
  • Ask why. And then ask again. When consumers are sharing their needs, wants and desired experiences, ask them, “Why is that important?” Find out what is going on in their lives that makes it meaningful. Often, this is enough to get at insights that are not too far beneath the surface.
  • To dig deeper, have consumers “project.” Ask consumers to create a collage, a poem, a story that represents their experience, their feelings and what is impacting their feelings. Let them discuss it. And again, ask “Why?”
  • Let consumers be stimulated by other consumers. After a consumer has unpacked their own feelings and completed a collage, poem or other exercise, let them hear the discussion of other consumers and their stimulus. Often, unconscious feelings and motivators are brought to the surface by hearing others’ experiences, feelings and drivers. In a room full of consumers, I often see the metaphorical lightbulb go on when they hear someone share their experience and feeling. That’s the Ah-Ha moment that helps identify a true insight.

So, how do you define insights?  Where and how do you use them?  What has been successful for you in uncovering insights? How do you know when you have gotten to the core, driving insight?


Adam Hansen is the Vice President of Innovation & Marketing at Ideas To Go. He facilitates customer-centered innovation for Fortune 500 companies across all market categories and industries.

©2018 Ideas To Go, Inc. All rights reserved

Adam Hansen

Adam Hansen is co-author of the book, "Outsmart Your Instincts: How the Behavioral Innovation™ Approach Drives Your Company Forward," and Innovation Process Facilitator at Ideas To Go – an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies to incorporate the voice of the consumer in ideation and concept development.