The concept of “Customer Insight”, or “Consumer Insight”, is overused and often misused in marketing. All too often, insights are confused with “new information” the team didn’t have before. Those may be interesting and useful but typically do not have the business and brand-building power of an insight.
The best definition of an insight I’ve come across in my career is from communication expert and author, Paul Feldwick. He described an insight as “a moment of enlightenment when one sees something with a new understanding”.
In short, an insight provides you with a new perspective, a moment of epiphany – the famous Aha! Moment- that changes the way you look at your brand, your customers, your business, your competitors, or your category and that unlocks new opportunities and ideas on how to position, build, grow, and manage your brand.
For example, you can look at a brand like Hallmark, a brand I had the opportunity to be involved with, as being in the retail business of selling greeting cards. That is the perspective the company has held for a long time. And why shouldn’t they? This perspective and frame of reference has led Hallmark to become a multi-billion-dollar business. But with the advent of the internet, social media, and e-cards, changing social norms on how people interact and communicate, and an increasing number of competitors, looking at the business through a product lens (paper greeting cards) didn’t yield the desired growth any longer. New, younger consumers weren’t buying the brand, and the older, more loyal customers were slowly dying out. A typical case of a leaking bucket, where the company couldn’t acquire new customers faster than it was losing existing ones.
A lot of research and a shift in perspective led to a new and fresh way to look at the category and the insight that Hallmark was actually in the “business of nurturing and managing relationships”. In hindsight, that observation seems so simple and obvious, another characteristic of powerful insights. Looking at the business through the lens of “nurturing and managing relationships” led to a whole new approach to customer segmentation, and completely different types of ideas on how to grow the business (whether through. new products or communication ideas) and the brand.
Different types of insights.
Insights are often associated with customers or consumers, but the reality is that there are many different types of insights. There are consumer insights, category insights, brand or product insights, cultural insights, etc. There is not a one-size-fits-all source of insights.
Some brands have also grown very successful businesses without leveraging a specific insight. This might be shocking to you, but one example is Apple.
Why do insights matter?
Insights matter for a variety of reasons. Here are a few, in no particular order:
- Insights make your brand more relevant to consumers. By tapping into a truth consumers can identify with, the brand automatically increases its relevance and appeal. “You are not you when hungry” (Snickers) is an insight many consumers can relate to. We even have a word for that: hangry! It is the same with “most vacuum cleaners lose suction after a while”(Dyson). It is something we have all experienced. As a result, consumers feel that the brand really understands them and their problems and, therefore assume that it must provide a better solution.
- Insights can help you create a whole new set of opportunities to build your brand. By allowing you to reframe the way you look at your business, you automatically allow for a whole new range of potential solutions, strategies, and tactics to help you build that business. For example, by reframing a beer brand around the need of customers to “want to appear more interesting in social settings” (Dos Equis), the type of ideas you come up with will be very different than when you think about your beer brand as just another premium or craft beer. That, in turn, will help you change the category dynamics and take a leadership role.
- A strong insight gives your brand an unfair competitive advantage. If you associate your brand with a strong and relevant insight or consumer truth, you automatically differentiate yourself from the competition and prevent said competition from claiming those brand associations. For example, Pedigree’s success is built on the insight that “dogs make us better people”. It is a highly emotional insight or association that many pet owners can relate to and will agree to. The “illogical” implication for many consumers is that “since Pedigree shares my point of view on pets, their food must be better’. But this sentiment is also a very generic one, that applies to most pet owners. However, by associating itself first with this insight, Pedigree prevented other dog food brands from claiming that territory. What is Purina going to do? Claim: ‘we also love dogs and think they make us better people?”. Of course not.
- A strong insight will get your consumers to rethink their choices and behaviors. For example, we all know that milk is good for us. And yet, bombarding your consumers with this message has not increased their milk consumption. The same, by the way, is true for smoking. We all know that smoking is bad for you, yet being bombarded with this message doesn’t reduce the smoking incidence. Only once the marketing team and their agency realized that the best way to increase relevance for milk was to make consumers realize how important it is when they need it most got them to reevaluate their attitudes and subsequent behavior (deprivation strategy). I am of course speaking about the ground-breaking “Got Milk” brand-building idea.
- A fresh insight can also allow you to reenergize and refresh a relevant but outdated brand positioning platform. When assessing the relevance of a brand positioning platform, one has to look at 2 factors. 1. Are the brand associations that make up the brand positioning relevant to consumers and influencing their purchase behavior and 2. Are those associations brought to life in a fresh and contemporary way? A great example of this is Snickers. Snickers had been positioned -or associated with- “hunger satisfaction” for over 20 years. This association is as relevant today as it was then. However, they needed a refresh which came in the form of this new insight that “you are not yourself when you are hungry”. The core need state on which the brand is based has not changed. Its interpretation, however, has been modernized with this fresh insight.
Examples of business-building insights
Insights do not need to be this brilliant, deep psychological truth about your consumers that only a trained expert can come up with. At the end of the day, it is not rocket science, it is brand building. To illustrate my point, I have gathered some of the real-life insights that have helped known brands succeed in their respective categories. All these examples come from www.effie.org:
- When guys get hungry, they’re off their game and their role in their male social group is threatened (Snickers)
- Hallmark is in the relationship management business, not in the greeting card business (Hallmark)
- Young adult males don’t want to come across as boring (Dos Equis)
- You only really appreciate the value a milk, when you’re out of it (Got Milk?)
- Dogs make us better people (Pedigree)
- Good thing come to those who wait (Guiness)
- Most vacuum cleaners loose suction after a while (Dyson)
- Before a big game, we want to block out all the noises in our heads and focus (Beats by Dr. Dre)
As you can see, insights cover a large spectrum of areas, from a human truth (“dogs make us better people” for Pedigree) to category-specific problems (“Most vacuum cleaners lose suction after a while” for Dyson); there is not a one fits all definition for insights, despite what some self-proclaimed experts might claim.
Interested in insights and how to generate them? Then the Aha! The Indispensable Insight Generation Toolkit might be for you. Available as a set of method cards in the US and as an Amazon Kindle document outside the US. Interested in training your team in the craft of insight generation via an in-person training workshop? Then, reach out to me directly.
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Interested in insights and how to generate them instead? Then the Aha! The Indispensable Insight Generation Toolkit might be for you. Available as a set of method cards in the US and as a Kindle document outside the US.
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