The insight edge

23 Sep 2008|Added Value

Insight has become a tired word in marketing. Marketers have become frustrated because too often they are dished up research rather than insight. The fact is it’s easy to do research but difficult to get insight. Frustratingly, this is exactly the reason it is so potent.

And it’s for this reason that companies get despondent about their insight processes. But true insight can genuinely change the future of brands and businesses. It can be the ultimate growth hormone.

The sporting world regularly uses insight in a far more consistent way than the corporate world. A champion sports team or individual is driven by insight. They know where they stand against their competition (the test match). They know how satisfied their customers are (stadium attendance). They know how good each individual is (batting average, number of tackles made or tries scored).

The result is perpetual performance improvements or, in business terms, unprecedented growth.

Businesses should expect the same from their insight investment – and they don’t have a career limit!

Typically, insight falls into two bundles. Historic insight can give you an idea of the status quo, how well you are doing and what needs to be worked on to improve. Future insight, on the other hand, can show you where opportunities lie, to make that improvement. Both are key in driving growth. But future insight is the real hormone for growth. It provides the ideas, the new direction, the new vision, the key clue that challenger brands often use to beat old favourites.

But it’s difficult to get and many companies struggle to find it. But companies that do, become superstars.

Think of OMO. After years of celebrating clean, OMO is celebrating dirt. A fundamental insight that was there for everybody to harness, but one which remained uncovered for years as a result of conventional thinking and a traditional insight approach. The obvious insight is that laundry is as much about ones approach to parenting as it is about enzymes. In our sedentary lives, dirt is a vital part of a child’s development. It’s how kids learn and express their creativity. It helps kids stay healthy by encouraging them to exercise. In other words, “Dirt is Good”.

So why wasn’t the insight uncovered earlier? One can’t deny that Unilever is an insight rich company, but like a lot of brands, they admitted they were looking at the category too narrowly. People’s thinking (marketing, technology, agencies) was being restricted by history and chemistry, which made it difficult to find fresh insight. Everybody was obsessed with the category and had forgotten about life, resulting in limited conversations with consumers.

A few people had an intuitive feeling that there was more to laundry than enzymes and they started to dig. The more they dug, the more compelling their hunch became. Children need outdoor and active play to be healthy. This means dirty clothes. Progressive parents understand that “Dirt is Good”. A whole new growth hormone for OMO was born.

There is a lot more evidence. Master Card, for example, has grown at twice the speed of VISA since it hit on the insight that “There are some things in life money can’t buy”. Similarly, the latest generation of savvy internet boomers have understood that humans are communal; giving rise to social media phenomena like Facebook, Flickr, .digg and Twitter.

Conversely, many brands fail because the idea or proposition hasn’t been based on a deep insight. Kellogg’s ‘Cereal Mate’ is one example from the international market. The cereal brand was looking to tap into the on-the-go market and produced an individually portioned milk and cereal pack. Good idea, right? Understanding that people don’t like the taste of warm milk, the product was retailed in fridges. But consumers don’t look for cereal in the fridge, and more importantly a bowl of cereal is hardly convenient for on-the-go munching, particularly if you drive to work.

So how do companies build insight focused infrastructure? Establishing insight as a growth hormone requires two things: firstly intuitive people in an inquisitive culture and secondly, deeper insight tools that dig beyond rational responses to deliver more profound information.

Companies like Proctor & Gamble and Google have invested heavily in creating environments that encourage innovative and inquisitive people. P&G now talks about “open source” innovation and aims to have 50% of all new products come from outside of their labs, creating a global network to find embryonic ideas from “natural inventors”.

Google has built its empire on a similar vein. The top team spends minimal time on cooking up grand strategies. Rather they work on creating environments which will spawn lots of “googlettes”. To do this, they recruit people who have off-the-wall hobbies, unconventional interests and people who are happy to defy convention. All employees are given 20% “thinking time” in their roles.

Better insight tools are also crucial, given the difficulty of uncovering a breakthrough insight.

So why is it so difficult? The answer lies in the complexity of the process we all go through when we make purchase decisions. As a result, consumers find it difficult to tell us why they choose one brand over another.

As a result of resent developments in neuroscience we know that people make decisions with more than just their heads. All decision making is based on a combination of three elements: gut feelings or instinctive responses; cerebral or considered responses; and irrational responses. Traditionally, research tended to elicit the more rational elements, and so the cutting edge of insight is evolving processes that access gut and heartfelt feelings rather than rationalised justification.

But this is challenging. Feelings are private.

As a result, insighters need to reinvent their insight tools. Contrary to the popular view, we believe that the humble focus group still as a powerful role to play, but in a form where respondents have fun, play games, become creative and start to reveal their heart-felt feelings.

Observational tools also become increasingly important as often consumers do things so subconsciously that they would never even think to talk about in a group situation. In-situ, pschyo- and ethnographic tools work well in unlocking these insights.

Even quantitative research can now be structured to elicit how a brand makes people feel, which is often completely different to how they rationally feel about the brand or its communication.

Finally semiotic, or the symbolic analysis of the culture surrounding consumers can add richness and depth to understanding the ‘now’ and the ‘future’. Cultural analysis can help unpack what is driving consumers to behave in certain ways and can also pin point cultural trends and emerging opportunities. As such, it can be a valuable tool in finding new growth hormones for businesses.

Insight is what gives a company an edge over its competitors. It can direct businesses on all kinds of levels. Opening your business and your people up to an insight driven environment is exactly how top brands will survive and grow in the future. In the words of Management Today columnist and “Agony Uncle”, Jeremy Bullmore, “Why is a great insight like a refrigerator? Because the moment you look into it, a light goes on.”

By: Sue Ellen Hoffman, Qualitative Insight Specialist Director at Added Value South Africa

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