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Monday, September 30, 2013



(or, Getting Down to Real Insights)


Working with clients to discover and articulate real insights—whether for positioning, innovation, or communication development—is one of the most challenging things we do. And one of the most rewarding. As we have written in some past editions of Dispatches, it’s all too common for marketers (usually in a rush) to settle for an accepted consumer belief, a simple need-state, or even a research fact in lieu of a real consumer insight. What each of these “unsights” shares in common is its superficial-ness. Each is readily apparent to most people, if not already committed to the collective memory. 


It’s because of the uncanny prevalence of these more superficial consumer “knowns” that we so often admonish our clients to “dig, dig, dig” to get well beneath the obvious, the already discovered and accepted, and attempt to understand the not-so-obvious why’s: why consumers hold the attitudes they express; why they behave as they do; or in some cases, why they don’t behave as we would expect or like them to. The thing is, though, while many marketers readily accept the need to dig deep for a real insight, many also admit they don’t really know where or how to best do the digging. 


Before even thinking about where or how to dig for insights, we believe that the first order of business is to assemble the right talent, the right “search team.” In most organizations, the “right talent” for discovering consumer insights is assumed to be the combined Brand, Market Research, and outside Agency (Consulting, Communication, etc.) team. After all, finding consumer insights is typically considered part of each of these groups’ core competencies. But given how often these combined teams end up with those unsights we’ve already mentioned, it would seem that additional talent is in order. What kind of additional talent? For starters, people who study human behavior as a profession: cultural anthropologists, trend-watchers, sociologists, even authors—of fiction and non-fiction. 


And what, exactly, do we expect this additional talent to bring to the party? Well, aside from the obvious Company-outsider perspectives, professionals like these invariably bring an innate “Cu-Factor”—as in “Curiosity Factor.” Nothing beats a natural curiosity about humanity when it comes to seeking real, human insights. Even better, folks with this kind of talent tend to be unusually adept at translating their natural curiosity into hypotheses about why people think and do as they do (or don’t do). In short, with a small, added team of professional “people-observers,” thetypical internal team is richly augmented with a supply of hypothetical insights to probe and verify. Think of it another way: no anthropologist, trend-seer, or author is likely to make a dime in their businesses by peddling the obvious, the superficial…and we marketers definitely need all the help we can get to penetrate below the superficial!


With the right talent assembled, then, it’s time to consider where and how to dig for those precious insights. It’s a big wide marketplace out there and, for sure, we can’t dig everywhere. Oddly enough, some of those superficial unsights—such as accepted consumer beliefs (ACB’s) and statements of need—can actually be promising places to start the digging. Most ACB’s were at one time real insights, until they became over-exploited. So there may still be some untapped depths of understanding within them. As for need-states, they sometimes make for the logical starting point of any real insight: most behavior-driving consumer attitudes link directly to rational or emotional needs consumers have, whether met or unmet. The key is to “mine” for the bedrock attitudes…the ones that, normally, most consumers are quite reluctant to admit. 


Take, for example, one of the most over-used unsights of all time--“As a Mom, I only want the best for my kids.” With the help of the right research methodology (say, in-depth, one-on-one interviewing) and a skillful moderator who knows how to keep unearthing the “why’s,” imagine some possible, deeper attitudes that more insightfully explain the ACB :


“As a Mom, I only want the best for my kids.” (ACB)

“OK, I’m never going to be famous…but maybe somehow I can

through my kids.”

“I don’t want to live my kids’ lives. But I have to admit I like

living part of my life through their lives.”

“Actually, if I’m honest, I like to ‘compete’ with (and beat!)
other Moms.”

How useful any of these deeper attitudes is depends upon things like commonality among the brand’s target consumers, link to the brand’s promises (rational or emotional needs/benefits), and even the combined team’s assessment of idea-generation potential. But the point is to dig deeper…to have something worth assessing at all.


Other places to dig for insights certainly would include the social media sites that carry legitimate user-generated content—both favorable and unfavorable. And it’s hard to beat the recent trend in “home visits,” where marketers and their insight search-teams can observe and interact in real-time with their consumers.


Ultimately, the best-practices approach we’ve found to where & how to dig, dig, dig for insights is to take on the detective’s mindset: think of your various pieces of market research and encounters with consumers as “clues.” Upon first glance, most of them make little sense; it’s only when clever detectives hypothesize about the clues’ meanings or when a number of clues form a linking pattern that the real motives become clear.   And there’s something else that the very best detective mindsets typically employ as a guiding operating principle. In the words of one of our favorite fictional detectives, Harry Hole (created by best-selling Norwegian author Jo Nesbo), “Ninety-five percent of all police work is searching in the wrong place.” What we take that to mean to us marketers is simply this: if you keep looking in the same old places you’ve always looked, chances are you’ll only find the same old stuff…that stuff we call unsights.


Richard Czerniawski & 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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