What is a consumer insight?

A headshot of Steve Denning

by Steve Denning

An illustration of a magnifying glass overtop of hill-shaped multi-coloured objects.

What, exactly, is consumer insight?

Let’s start with what it isn’t.

It’s not the same thing as discovering patterns. It’s not the same thing as statistics. It’s not sitting at a cafe and eavesdropping on people around you. It’s not social listening on Facebook or Twitter looking for trends and correlations. It’s not noticing when people say what they need. It’s not asking your teenager what her friends think about different brands of sneakers.

It’s not even scooping consumer data and sifting it for clues to behaviour, which is what a lot of people think an insight is.

Insight is something a little trickier to define.

Because, as many creativity experts agree, insight is as much state of mind—or a new way of thinking—as it is any particular realization. Insight is also hard to define because it’s difficult to say how you find one, with more than one expert underlying what a “surprise” they can be, how hidden and unexpected.

Read Next: 6 digital trends shaping consumer insights

So, what is insight? Here are just a few ways that an “insight” has been described by some pretty prominent marketers and researchers.

Andy Davidson, Chief Strategy Officer at strategic insight consultancy Flamingo:

  • “An insight is a disturbance in discourse.”

Anna Ho, Associate Director of Strategy at Smashing Ideas in Seattle:

  • “Insights do things. They get people unstuck. They provide direction. They light the way.”

Dan Kent-Smith, Senior Vice President at Edelman Intelligence:

  • “An insight is a surprise. You may discover insights, but you can’t always search for them – not specifically. Insights give us fresh perspectives; they are unexpected. . . .[They] provide unexpected vision and drive a different way of looking at the results, a different way of looking at the problem.”

Graham Robertson, CMO, Beloved Brands:

  • “Insight is something that everyone already knows. Insight comes to life when it’s told in such a captivating way that makes consumers stop and say ‘hmm, I thought I was the only who felt like that’.”

Tracey Follows, Head of Strategy at WIRED Consulting:

  • “An insight is something that is “weird-normal”; “noticing that you’re noticing”; and “less to do with a revelation and more to do with a realisation.”

Mike Grigsby, VP Customer Insights and Advanced Analytics at Brierley and Partners:

  • “Insights provide new information/understanding by explaining consumer behavior and quantifying causality with actions that drive a strategic advantage.”

At Chaordix, we think of insight as that remarkable aha! moment when you understand a previously unrecognized (or “deep”) truth or make a slightly weird or interesting connection. Insights come into view when you tap into the creative minds of your community members.

We express insight as a statement, a synthesis of knowledge or collective intelligence. It can include a few short sentences that set the current context, describe a dilemma and envision the desired end-state.

Here’s an example based on a Smashing Ideas client study:

“People are motivated to keep their families healthy more than they are to save money, which means they will spend money to guarantee it. Oral health is of great concern to parents whose children experience frustration during their morning and evening brushing. Children in fact do not hate brushing their teeth – they hate being made to stop playing, or worse, go to bed.”

As exciting and rewarding as an insight hunt can be, your job doesn’t stop once you’ve spotted that fascinating truth. That would be a bit like saying “Yes, I’ve just thought of something that could change the world forever. Hooray for me,” and then moving on to the next thing.

End with ideas, not insights.

Mining data, synthesizing findings and crafting insight statements are only the beginning. It’s what you do with your insight that will make the difference to your customers and your business.

Related Read: Market research vs shopper insights: which fuels innovation?

Insights fuel innovation

In other words, experiencing/unearthing/sparking an insight is not where your work ends; insight propels you toward what comes next—which can be change, growth and improvement, maybe even a breakthrough product that transforms your brand.

So, keeping your eye on the big picture, your next step is to rephrase your insight as a “How might we?” statement so it is actionable:

How might we turn teeth brushing into an engaging play activity that children will look forward to?”

Insights are tough to find, but critical to unlocking organic growth. They reduce irrelevance and focus you on what is meaningful, setting the foundation for successful product development.

Think of the insight as a question you must work to answer in pursuit of a solution—the product that will solve the challenge posed by the insight.

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