Contact Us | User Login  
Program Competencies
Our Blog


PDF Version



Monday, November 30 2015




Consumer (or customer) insights remain a perennial hot topic for marketers—particularly when those marketers and their agencies are looking to develop new communications.  It’s no wonder, then, that we often return to this subject.  What makes the subject even more interesting to us than its mere topicality, however, is its inherent resistance to universal agreement.  Unlike other critical marketing endeavors—such as setting a behavior objective for new communications (like increasing adoption by new category users, or getting current brand users to trade up) or even determining a brand’s differentiated core benefit the communications must deliver—insights are much less likely to gain consensus among the combined brand-agency team.  Unfortunately, this is rarely due to the team’s having too many legitimate insights to choose from!


As we’ve discussed in these DISPATCHES before, one of the most common barriers to finding and articulating a legitimate, productive insight for a brand’s new communications is marketers’ confusing insights with needs, facts, and long-accepted and well-exploited consumer/customer beliefs (“ACB’s”).  Another barrier is simply the difficulty in getting to a commonly accepted way of articulating an insight.  Unlike classic brand positioning statements or communication strategy statements, which tend toward common “formats” from company-to-company and from agency-to-agency, there is really no “science” or common “formula” that most marketers use to articulate an insight.  Ways to express insights are all over the proverbial map.


Not long ago, we came upon yet another barrier to understanding and expressing legitimate insights—a barrier that we hadn’t really run into or considered all that much before.  Upon further thought, you could also call this new barrier a “limiter” because, when accepted as truth, it can lead to the rejection of a good number of potentially legitimate insights.  And the barrier-limiter is simply this (as expressed by some marketers):  “Any belief that a marketer plants in the mind of the consumer/customer cannot be a legitimate insight; insights must emanate from the minds and hearts of consumers back to the marketer.”  In other words, loosely stated, “If we didn’t hear it directly from the consumer’s mouth (like during a focus group or an in-depth interview), and it’s really our words speaking, then it can’t be a legitimate insight.”


Let's be clear:  the best way to ultimately articulate a consumer insight is in the words of the actual target consumer.  To do so sets the insight up for better “reality” scrutiny and, naturally, makes it sound more legitimate—consumer-speak, not marketer-speak.  But, in fact, it’s very rare that a quote ascribed to an actual consumer is a direct one; it’s usually word-smithed by both client and agency folks to make it better reflect the actual intended meaning and, sometimes, to make it better reflect what a group of consumers at large (not just one consumer) would feel—and say.


And, it’s also great when the words used in the ultimate insight were first generated or uttered in some way by real, live consumers.  But there is a whole other “set” of legitimate insights that we marketers can be the “first generators” of—you can think of these as, initially, hypothetical insights that grow out of careful listening and observing of real, live consumers.  They only transform from hypothetical to legitimate insights when, upon serving them up in some relevant way to the target consumer, the consumer responds:  “Yes!  Yes!  Come to think of it, that’s exactly how I think or how I feel.”  So, in fact, there are really two broad types or classes of insights:  those that initiate directly from the consumer’s mouth, and those that initiate from astute marketers’ mouths…but that instantly get ratified by the consumer as being real and relevant.


To bring the distinction between each of these to life a little better, we revisited a book about successful ad campaigns, Design Secrets:  Advertising, edited by Lisa Hickey (2002), which tells the inside stories of 50 well-known TV, Print, and Outdoor campaigns.  In her article about an L.L. Bean print campaign, she describes the underlying insight—originally expressed directly by consumers—that led to a re-definition of the outdoors:  “A key insight we had about the company was that L.L. Bean had always been narrow in its definition of the outdoors.  They saw it in way that was cold, snowy, New England-like, but the reality is that the consumer didn’t see the outdoors as that narrow at all…the outdoors is taking a kid to the beach…watching someone build a tree-house.”  Hearing many consumers explicitly define the outdoors in this much broader way resulted in the new campaign that “talked about the outdoors with a small ‘o,’ not a capital ‘O’…to be about inspiration, not perspiration.”


In her article about the famous DeBeers diamond billboard campaign, she describes how the agency generated a hypothetical insight that played back legitimately:  “How do you talk to men about diamonds?  ‘Talking to a man is not like talking to a woman.’ When (the creative team) pushed the envelope of this insight to diamond-giving, they came to a truth that appealing to the male psyche is what would boost sales.  ‘A man always needs to feel rewarded; he has to feel like he’s a hero for giving a gift.’ And from this revelation evolved a series of headlines that went straight to the male consumer’s jugular.”  From their conversations with men, the creative teams learned that a different language was going to be needed to successfully target them to buy diamonds as gifts.  But it was their hypothetical “push” of the basic insight envelope that unearthed the BIG insight.  (And don’t you love the language that Ms. Hickey and the DeBeers agency types use to tell the story:  “a truth”; “this revelation”; and “straight to the male consumer’s jugular.”)  Talk about real and relevant!


So, to sum things up a bit, here’s a simple metaphor:  a legitimate insight is like an itch on, or just beneath, the consumer’s skin.  Ones that really itch are the ones that consumers most typically express directly, they “scratch” them right before our eyes.  The ones beneath the surface are those that we marketers think might be there and, if we apply the right stimulus, will result in eager scratching by the consumer.  Either way is a good and legitimate way to discover and articulate an insight…an insight that will lead to some BIG campaign ideas for your brand!




We talked about two broad types or classes of legitimate insights.  But, upon further thought, maybe there are three:


1.  Insights expressed directly by the consumer—something we either haven’t heard before or we haven’t heard expressed in quite that way before.


2.  Insights hypothesized by the marketer and relevantly served up to the intended target—typically based upon careful listening and observation of target consumers, an “angle” or expressed feeling that results in an automatic, genuine “Yes!  Finally, someone saying exactly how I think or feel!”


3.  Insights expressed directly by consumers but that marketers are too afraid (or too unsure how) to pursue—for example, before Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty,” who among skincare marketers had never heard women everywhere express their disdain for “slim, body-perfect” models in every brand’s advertising?  Who had never heard how vehemently many women—especially those with teenage daughters struggling with their self-esteem—rejected such unrealistic portrayals?



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

© 2003 Brand Development Network (BDN) International. All rights reserved.

  Home | About Us | Contact Us | Site Map | Help

© 2007 Brand Development Network Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Site Web Master: Vincent Sevedge. Designed by
Call us: 800-255-9831
[Print Page]

Open 5-2008 BP&MCC Online Assessment