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Monday, July 28, 2014




Each week client companies share with us what they proclaim to be their brands’ customer insights. Unfortunately, they’re either not “legitimate” and/or “productive” insights. How can this be? Do marketers not know the difference between an insight and unsight? Are they incapable of determining whether their so-called insights are legitimate and productive? Is there not some way for them to pressure test whether they have something akin to a real insight? Yes there is, and we are going to introduce two ways to determine whether you are playing with the real thing? While both require sound judgment, something the marketer may or may not possess (especially when group think rules), at the least they instill a discipline that is needed to increase the likelihood that we have discovered something of value to the brand.


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 our brand or category; and
3.      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 really, what’s the big deal 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 and populate many organizations. 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 brand, 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 – This, too, is absolutely essential. It must lead to stimulating 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, a marketing metric that ultimately contributes to realizing the brand’s business objectives.


Litmus Test

Given the aforementioned, here is a tool, consisting of a series of questions, each of which must be answered in the affirmative, to determine if we have a “legitimate” AND “productive: insight:



1.      It’s suggested by some form of market research (i.e., quantitative, qualitative or in-market activity):       

2.      It fits into one of the following classifications:           

  • Perceived or real weakness to be exploited of a competitive product;
  • Attitudinal barrier to overcome in the minds of customers regarding your brand; or
  • Untapped compelling belief or practice about the condition, category and/or behaviors, which, if tapped, would lead customers to choose your brand.


1.     a)  Can be paid-off by a strategic element of the brand; 

     b)  In a meaningful way (i.e, category or competitive?)   

2.      Effects a change in customer attitudes, behavior and/or relationship with the brand, in such a way that leads to the achievement of the “Marketing Behavior Objective”             


If you can answer “YES” to each of the questions in the Litmus Test then it is more likely that you have a “legitimate” and “productive” insight rather than an unsight.


Here’s another way to pressure test insights …


‘Gut’ Check

The reality of the situation is that marketers are good rationalizers. What this means is that they will find ways to rationalize that which they have identified and feel to be an insight. Unfortunately, this is aided and abetted by the conventional wisdom of the organization and/or category. By the way, if it is part of the conventional wisdom in all likelihood it ain’t an insight! This next methodology to pressure test for an insight relies on honestly connecting with your gut. Yes, your gut can be a good indicator of whether you’ve struck a gusher, providing you are truly attuned to your feelings. Here are some questions you should ask of yourself:


1.      Have you been gob smacked? To be gob smacked is to be figuratively “hit in the mouth.” In other words you are astonished and awed by what you have discovered. Not merely pleasantly surprised. But knocked off your feet like in “where did this come from?” If you haven’t been gob smacked it means that not only don’t you have a great discovery but also that it is probably not an insight at all.


2.      Do you need to champion it? Must you push it up hill? Do you initially feel organization resistance? This is another way to say many or most managers in the organization just don’t get it. In fact, it might actually scare them because it flies in the face of conventional wisdom regarding how we do things here or what we know. Also, it requires by its very nature that we/they take a different tact from the way our competitors and we have always done things. Now that’s really scary. So don’t be turned-off if you have to champion it. View it as a positive that you have something of potential value.


3.      Are there a few astute and savvy managers who recognize its beauty? Yes, “beauty.” There is something aesthetically pleasing about an elegant solution or idea. If a precious few others, whose judgment, instinct and experiences you respect, see beauty in the insight then it is encouragement that you may be on to something profound.


4.      Do you feel a sense of pride in your discovery? C’mon now, if you don’t feel a sense of pride in a job well done then you’re either dead or in the wrong field. Get the h—l out of marketing! Imagine what you’d feel if you won an award for “Marketer of the Year,” or jumped two pay grades. You’d be ecstatic; bursting with pride, There has to be a sense of pride, overwhelming pride, in your discovery. Otherwise, well, keep digging. A corollary to this is, if someone else came-up with the discovery you’d wish that you had discovered it.


5.      Can you envision it leading to, and making a big, difference for the brand?  Something worth discovering must have value. It’s treasure. The payout is substantial. The discovery of an insight must lead to and make a big difference. It has to make a significant impact to the competitiveness and business building of the brand. If the insight leads you to where you have already been, or were already going, or where everyone else is, then again you probably don’t have a legitimate and productive insight.




1.      Dig, dig, dig for insights – You have to get your hands dirty spending time thinking and exploring for insights. You won’t find them answering emails. If you’d like to receive a copy of our DISPATCHES’ article “How to Discover 1001 Customer Insights” reply to this email, then use it to go digging;


2.      Pressure test your insights – Use the Litmus Test and Gut Check to help you determine if what you deem an insight is truly a “legitimate” and “productive” customer insight. Go ahead, check what you have identified as an insight with these two tools now;


3.      Participate in our Discovering Customer Insights training program – We can customize a program for your brand or company that will empower you to discover “legitimate” and “productive” customer insights.


Don’t go forward without pressure testing your customer insights to avoid coming-up dry.


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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