“Checklists seem lowly and simplistic, but they help fill in for the
gaps in our brains and between our brains.”
Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right
“The checklist is one of the most high-powered productivity tools
Brian Tracy, Motivational Self-Developer
“I watch a lot of astronaut movies…mostly Star Wars. And even
Han and Chewie use a checklist.”
Jon Stewart, Talk Show Host
Let’s start this week’s DISPATCHES by going out on a limb with a sweeping generalization: There are a number of reasons why real customer or consumer insights almost never show up in marketers’ positioning, innovation, and communication efforts; but by far the most overwhelming reason is that marketers fail to use discipline in qualifying what they call insights as real, legitimate and productive insights. And by “fail to use discipline in qualifying” we’re not overlooking those market research methodologies some organizations use to select the most promising insight from among a number of pre-selected options. Rather, we’re talking about that utter lack of discipline that happens long before any insight option testing occurs. And such a lack involves a total reliance on one or a few people’s personal judgment about what is or isn’t an insight…instead of on a consistent, critical assessment of the many factors that truly qualify something as a legitimate and productive customer or consumer insight.
Technical, qualifying factors or expectations exist for nearly every other kind of significant marketing thinking—as evidenced on required formats. A Brand Positioning Strategy Statement always has places to fill in point-of-difference benefits and reasons why. Likewise, a Creative Brief almost always has places to articulate details about the target chosen for the communication effort, as well as to express what the communication is expected to accomplish (e.g., “What, specifically, is the problem this communication must solve?”) It’s time marketers had a disciplined way to qualify real insights—to more obviously separate the unsights from the insights.
We have a modest proposal for just such a way: The Insight Checklist. As many of our clients and longtime readers of DISPATCHES know, both of us were military pilots before we became marketers…in the United States Navy and Air Force, respectively. And like all pilots everywhere, we were trained in the use of and quickly realized the “life or death” value of checklists. No pilot starts, taxis, takes off, levels off, or does anything else without verbally calling out and visually checking to see that a required action has been taken or that a critical gauge is performing as required. We highlight “verbally calling out and visually checking” with a purpose: it’s our belief that the very act of calling out and visually checking is exactly what’s most often missing from our teams’ discussions about insights. Oh sure, someone on the team will invariably offer an opinion about someone else’s suggested insight—such as, “I don’t think that’s an insight; it sounds more like just a statement of need to me.” But that’s about as far or as deep as the critical assessment goes.
This is where the The Insight Checklist comes in. Comprising only about 10 qualifying factors (divided into 3 sections), the checklist literally forces everyone participating in the team’s insight articulation process to (1) visually check a proposed expression of an insight against the qualifying factors and “agree or disagree”; and to thereby (2) open up candid dialogue among the team as to how, exactly, the proposed insight qualifies or does not. Or, for that matter, how a failing “unsight” might actually become a real insight. Here’s a shot at an Insight Checklist that we have found to be very productive against these two objectives:
Just a few words about this checklist:
—Legitimacy means simply that what is being proposed as a real customer or consumer insight actually is one;
—Productivity means that the legitimate insight is truly one that our brand can exploit (because it may be that what the team is considering qualifies as legitimate…but fails to work for our brand, or works best for a competitor’s brand);
–Key Traits might just as well be labeled “Human-ness” because these qualifiers capture the human potential…the part that makes a customer or consumer exclaim, when they realize the insight within the innovation, the positioning, or the communication, “Yes! That’s it! That’s exactly how I feel! Someone is really (or finally) speaking to me!”
–The two “Yes/No” columns might have a third one: “Not Sure.” In that case, more discussion and ideas are obviously needed to get to “Yes.” It may also be that to get a “Yes” consensus on all checklist items may require some dialogue with target customers or consumers.
As far as when to use this checklist, well, the best rule of thumb is to use it anytime something is proposed by anyone as an insight. Put the proposed insight to the test. Get disciplined…per Atul Gawande:
“What is needed, however, isn’t just that people working together be nice to each other. It is discipline. Discipline is hard—harder than trustworthiness and skill and perhaps even than selflessness. We are by nature flawed and inconstant creatures. We can’t even keep from snacking between meals. We are not built for discipline. We are built for novelty and excitement, not for careful attention to detail. Discipline is something we have to work at.”
Go on. Give the The Insight Checklist a shot. If nothing else, it will help keep everyone honest…and reduce the number of those unsightly “unsights” we all too often accept as real insights.
Avoid “unsights” and develop “legitimate and productive” insights. Read chapter 11 of AVOIDING CRITICAL MARKETING ERRORS: How to Go from Dumb to Smart Marketing. Learn more here: http://bdn-intl.com/avoiding-critical-marketing-errors
Best wishes in achieving marketing excellence! Stay SAFE and be well.
Richard Czerniawski and Mike Maloney