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Sunday, June 3, 2012




Digging for insights may be compared to drilling for oil. You have to dig a lot of holes, and go sufficiently deep in order to discover a gusher (that which will bring great wealth). This article will review some essential principles about discovering customer insights and provide yet more insights on insights to aid in their discovery and application.


Essential Principles

Let’s start with a review of how we define customer insights. In short it is a deep-seated truth that reveals important customer needs and/or values that the brand can exploit to gain a competitive advantage, and win in the marketplace.  It is target-customer centric going to the core of the customers’ beliefs. These beliefs reveal important needs and/or values that the brand, not the product, but the brand, can exploit. As a result the target-customer discovers, or rediscovers, the brand in such a way that it drives preference, and behavior, in favor of the brand.


Insights need to be “legitimate” and “productive.” These two requirements aid us in where to search for insights and how deeply we must dig, respectively. Just as engineers use geological surveys to guide them in where to drill for oil we marketers have valuable markers that reveal likely places for discovering insights. Basically, there are three areas for us to investigate in the discovery of legitimate insights:

1.     Perceived or real weakness of the competition;

2.     Attitudinal barrier regarding the brand or category; and

3.     (Previously) Untapped compelling belief.

If what you believe to be a customer insight does not derive from one of these three areas then it is unlikely to be an insight. Instead, it is probably what we refer to as an “unsight.”


The most common unsights are: facts; accepted customer beliefs; and generic needs. Facts are facts. Your competitors share your knowledge of these same facts. So what, that you know, that consumers attempt to quit smoking more than 5-times on average (or some such specific number) before they are successful? It’s not the fact but what underlies it. Accepted customer beliefs, well, they were insights in the beginning (way back when they were first discovered), but now they have been exploited by your brand, a competitor, or the category. So, they’re ancient history. Then there are generic needs. There is nothing deep-seated about these. They litter the surface. Every competitor is using these and contributing to driving sameness, as opposed to differentiation, in the category. None of these are insights. They are truly unsights.


Once we have unearthed a legitimate insight we need to determine if it is productive. Afterall, the discovery of oil doesn’t mean that the well will be productive, or worth the cost of further drilling and operating. We must determine if the legitimate insights we discover will make a difference to our business. In order for an insight to be productive it must meet two conditions:

1.     It can be exploited by the brand – If it cannot be exploited (e.g., the technology is not available, or the clinical studies don’t bear it out, or product testing doesn’t evidence it, or customer perceptions don’t favor it, etc.) then it is not productive. This means we need to go back to our three areas and renew our digging.

2.     It will effect a change in customer behavior – It must provoke a predetermined, desired behavior objective (e.g., switching, adoption, etc.). Moreover, it must achieve a specific level of behavior. In other words, it must meet a numeric hurdle.


More Insights on Insights

There’s more for us to appreciate about insights:

  • There are strategic and execution insights. Strategic insights deal with the Brand Idea, Marketing Idea, product development, Communication Campaign Idea, etc. It gets at the “what” of your offering. Execution insights are about “how” you represent something. Both are critically important. As marketers we are responsible for discovering strategic customer insights. It is the role of our support personnel, who will be developing the idea, to uncover the execution insight. Nonetheless, we marketers must appreciate, and may very well contribute to the development of, the execution insight. Marrying both strategic and execution insights will supercharge productivity in achieving predetermined target-customer behavior objectives.
  • Insight discovery is not limited to communication development. Au contraire. Insights may be discovered that contribute to the development of: a competitive, enduring brand positioning strategy; new products; product improvements; a marketing campaign; clinical studies or ways in which to analyze them; new indications; a promotion; etc.
  • There is no perfect insight that will be applicable for all brands in a category, only perfect insights. Malcolm Gladwell, author of the Tipping Point among other noteworthy books that are “must” reading for marketers, informs us that a pioneering marketing researcher discovered (insight!) that there is no perfect “pasta sauce.” Instead, there are perfect “pasta sauces.” No, this is not a mistake. There is no single perfect pasta sauce for everyone. What is perfect to you is not perfect to another. Some of us prefer chunky pasta sauce while others find spicy more to their liking. It is a matter of taste. Likewise, a customer insight might be perfect for one brand and totally inappropriate for another. That is it can be productive for one brand and not another. The productivity of the customer insight depends upon the Brand Idea, the brand bundle and, of course, the target-customer segment that the brand serves, among other factors.
  • While legitimate insights may be discovered within any one of the three areas, the appropriateness (and therefore productivity) of any one area will depend upon a number of factors such as the stage in the brand’s lifecycle, company capabilities, among others. For example, an attitudinal barrier to overcome is a more likely source (but not the only one) when a brand’s growth has been stalled. Find and remove the attitudinal barrier and growth may be resumed. If we find an attitudinal barrier regarding the category, and your brand can address it, it is more likely to be a perceived or real weakness of the competition. By the way, the weakness may be perceived (as opposed to real) by customers. But then, perception is reality. Tapping into a previously untapped compelling belief requires that the brand support and own it. If the company will not stand by its brand (with meaningful levels of, and consistent, support) then it may gain a temporary advantage only to be wrested away by a competitor with greater commitment and/or more muscle.  
  • Different insights will drive different parts of the brand. The higher the level of the strategic insight (for example, the insight that leads to the Brand Idea) the more it will drive and direct all brand efforts. However, the brand positioning strategy may be built from an insight derived from a perceived or real weakness of the competition area, whereas its communications may be driven by an insight discovered in the attitudinal barrier to overcome area.
  • We express the customer insight in four parts. The first part is the Basis for the Insight. This is the source of the insight (one of the three areas we’ve shared with you). The second is the Target-Customer Insight itself, stated in the language of the customer. (We like to see this insight stated in italics and contained in quotes, just as it would appear in a written quote.) This is the part that we must discover. The third part is the POD (point-of-difference) Benefit/Promise that pays-off the insight. It provides the brand with its advantage. The fourth and final part is what we’ve termed the Reality. This is what allows us to pay-off the insight. It could be the product design, mode of action, indication, customer experiences with the brand, etc. It evidences that we have a pay-off that can be substantiated and that we are not merely talking to ourselves. Expressing the insight in these four parts provides a common currency in which to state and assess insights.
  • The insight states what the target-customer may not have expressed on his/her own. It is our knowledge of, appreciation and understanding of the target-customer that enables us to surface that which lies below their consciousness. However, while they might not have expressed the insight, the target-customers can appreciate and acknowledge it when it is shared with them.
  • We need to seek and check out many potential customer insights. Those insights that we believe we have discovered are mere hypotheses until they are checked-out (that is confirmed by the target-customers). It is likely that what we believe is an insight will prove false. However, this leads to further hypotheses of potential insights and contributes to our ability to discover one that is legitimate and productive.
  • Digging for insights is not a sometimes thing, it is an every time endeavor. When the engineer finds a productive well the search for new wells does not end. Consistent growth, the need for a competitive advantage and to drive it home in the marketplace, adaptation to changing market conditions, etc., is always present. As such, so is the need to discover customer insights to deal with each.




Here are some actions for you to consider in your effort to make digging for customer insights more productive:

1.     Get to know, really know your target-customer – Go beyond the statistics found in quantitative marketing research to appreciate the motivations and feelings of those target-customers that you are bound to serve with your brand. We need to get at the “why” behind the “what” we find statistically. We must get below the skin of our target-customer so that we know her/him so well we can predict how s/he will respond to our marketing strategies and tactics.


2.     Take time to dig for insights – You won’t discover insights if you don’t go digging. Unfortunately, that which could make a profound difference in the growth and health of the brand goes unattended until we are in desperate need to find it. That’s because we are too busy taking care of housekeeping (urgent but non-critical activities) to get to insights (critical but non-urgent activities). When critical becomes urgent the likelihood of discovering insights that are legitimate and productive decreases. In fact, it is more likely to result in our drilling a dry well.


3.     Use our four-part tool to express potential customer insights - To reiterate, the four parts are: a) the Basis for the Insight; b) the Target-Customer Insight (stated as the customer would); c) the POD Benefit/Promise; and d) the Reality. This will clarify thinking and reveal if the potential insight makes sense.


4.     Check out potential customer insights before employing them – First, check out potential insights internally. All too often what gets heralded as a customer insight and is, in turn, employed in marketing, is an “unsight.” As such, the resultant marketing action is faulty because the insight wasn’t really an insight. We have a simple checklist that we have developed that enables you to check that the insights are legitimate and productive. If you would like to receive this (and the aforementioned tool mentioned in point #3) please reply to this article and we will email them to you. Once your insights pass this internal check then subject them to a market check by going into the field and sharing them with customers to gain their response.


5.     Let us help you help yourself to discover “legitimate” and “productive” customer insights – We offer, and customize, a Discovering Customer Insights workshop to work on your specific brand, at its stage in the brand lifecycle (i.e., launch, relaunch, growth, etc.). This workshop capitalizes on your marketing research and the experience of brand team members to discover many potential customer insights, while providing training in the discovery of customer insights. The workshop introduces tools for discovering potential insights and is facilitated by our consultants, each of whom has more than 35-years of marketing experience. If you are interested in learning more please respond to this DISPATCHES article by clicking reply and providing your telephone number, or call Lori at 800-255-9831, and we can arrange to talk about your specific needs and how we might address them.


If we can be of further service to you please don’t hesitate to let us know. Good luck!


Richard Czerniawski and Mike Maloney

Richard Czerniawski

430 Abbotsford Road

Kenilworth, Illinois 60043

tel 847.256.8820 fax 847.256.8847

reply to Richard: or



Mike Maloney

1506 West 13th

Austin, Texas 78703

tel 512.236.0971 fax 512.236.0972

reply to Mike: or

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