The lost Craft of Insight Generation

The biggest myths surrounding “consumer insights” is that they are either just “laying around”, that they miraculously fall into your lap if you only look for them, or that you need to be a genius to be able to generate consumer insights.

I, on the other hand, believe that the act of uncovering consumer insights is a “craft” that includes a set of tool and techniques, which can be learned and used to develop your “insight generation skills”, and thus make you a better strategist and marketer.

But I also believe this craft is slowly getting lost and that its biggest threat is the belief that the marketing community will be able to delegate the consumer insight generation process to big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence. It will not. Compared to only a few years ago we now have access to so much more data. And yet we haven’t become more insightful or much smarter about converting this data into business building insights.

The point here is that the ability to generate business-building insights is not a “talent” you are born with or not (just like the ability to be creative), instead, it is something that can be learned and trained. Just like any craft.

So what are those tools and techniques? In my experience, there are three main “ways” to help facilitate the insight generation process. They can be used sequentially or on their own depending on the business problem that needs to be solved and the environment in which it is solved. And the good news is that it really isn’t that difficult to learn those skills and apply these tools. All it really requires is the knowledge of those tools and a bit of practice in applying them.

Defining the problem

“A problem well formulated is half solved”. We all know this quote and yet I rarely see it actually be applied in real life problem-solving situations. It usually isn’t included in client briefings, nor is it included in creative briefs or other agency briefs.

But the way you frame the problem is usually the first step to unlocking fresh perspectives on how to solve the business problem. The reason is that each problem definition has a set of inherent and implicit assumptions built in. These assumptions are based on the beliefs and culture in which they are formulated and the experience of those formulating the problem.

Challenging those assumptions and in the process reframing the problem is the first step to uncover powerful insights.

For example, one problem could be stated as “How can we make the check-out lines shorter?” This assumes, amongst others, that people don’t want to wait which is usually true. However, another way to frame this problem could be: “How do we make the waiting lines more entertaining so that people actually look forward to standing in line when checking out?”. Same problem, framed completely differently, leading to a completely different set of solutions. Just ask Disney World.

Mining for insights

The second step in the process is to actually mine for insights. The challenge here is not to uncover new information but to recognize an insight when you see it. In fact, the most common mistake marketers make when looking for insights is to confuse “new information” with “insights. Insights have inherently news value, but that doesn’t mean that any new information is necessarily an insight. It usually is not.

This requires an understanding on where to look for insights but more importantly an awareness for the feeling you’ll get (yes, it is going to be a feeling and visceral reaction first) when you stumble upon one. As such, insights are a bit like creative ideas, the most difficult part not being to come up with one but to recognize the potential of one. And that initial reaction is generally visceral rather than rational (even though it can then be rationalized).

In my experience, there are at least 37 areas where you can dig for insights. And in my experience, insights are usually contextual, meaning an accepted belief for one organization or brand might be a transforming insight for another.

One of my previous posts, “The 8 immutable truths about insights” provides a more thorough look at the nature of insights and how to recognize them.

Harvesting Insights

The third step in the process consists in applying specific tools that will enable you to look at interesting data (which is probably new to you but still not an insight) and extract actual actionable insights from it.

The fact that family dinner night is chaotic and often a source of stress for moms is nothing new. It’s true but it is not an insight. Capturing the “why” this is so for the mom (or dad) and phrasing this in a compelling way will lead to an insight.

An interesting piece of new information becomes an insight when it helps trigger a behavior and/or when it helps relieve a tension in consumers lives (and thus trigger a behavior). And here again, there are tools to help you do that. The most common and popular being probably the “Why” laddering exercise. Another would be to look at potential tensions that exist between culture, the brand and the people you are trying to appeal to and to identify a meaningful way for your brand to help resolve those tensions.

At First The Trousers, we are in the business of uncovering insights. The reasoning and beliefs described above led us to develop and launch “Aha! The Indispensable Insight Generation Toolkit”, a set of 49 method cards designed to help marketers, market research professionals, and strategists mine for and uncover business-building insights. The cards are divided into the three sections described above, i.e. 1. Problem Re-framing, 2. Insight Mining and 3. Insight Harvesting.

The cards represent the most comprehensive insight generation toolkit out there. As a matter of fact, I looked for this type of product but since I couldn’t find any, decided to create one myself.

The cards are only available on Amazon.