Sunday, March 18, 2007

Are insights enough?

It seems that Insights is the new buzzword replacing the outdated sounding 'market research'. But for some reason it seems true gems of insight are hard to find.

So what is the point about insights? You can take a starting point in anything, to help guide a problem-solving process - but you could say there is value to be had in understanding how to better meet consumers' needs. That in itself may not actually be something you can find out by asking consumers themselves. It is down to you to collect information, process it, digest it, sleep on it, combine it with other things and collectively emerge smarter by having a more compete understanding of the multi-faceted picture, which is the reality for us all these days.

The danger with what people perceive as insights (consumer research) is that they can be easily confused with people's opinion on things. Opinions can change very quickly and aren't really fundamentally useful for anything long-term, as they hold truth only for short periods of time. This means that although you can have a quite healthy turnover and a bunch of seemingly happy customers, they may only stay with you until there is a better alternative around the corner. Their opinions are thus next to useless in telling you what you should be developing next.

A more useful area for insights is understanding people's lifestyles. These change too, but not too often, maybe 5 times in our entire lifetime - when we we are children, teens, life after university and before children, life with children, life after children have flown the nest - the lifestyles at these different life stages are quite different and they tend to last for a few years at least, before there is a significant change. The downside is that the change can be quite radical and both opinions and preferences held whilst in the previous life-stage, may change radically as a result of moving into a new lifestyle.

The most interesting area for insights are values. These change hardly at all. Children up to the age of 12 tend to mirror their parents' values almost exactly, whereas ages of 12-25 are characterized by the deliberate experimentation with and independent (from parents) search for your own values. After your 25th birthday you are very unlikely to change your fundamental values on things, and thus - gaining insights of these will be much more useful long-term than anything else you can find out there. One could argue that this very fact is what creates mid-life crises in people as earlier years of life and career may be linked to highly extrinsic motivations (proving to the world you have made it), whereas lasting happiness in life comes from satisfying your intrinsic motivation.

Transforming insights into innovation is another hurdle in its' own right - on one hand it is about finding those golden nuggets, then it's about defining and creating accessible platforms where innovation can happen - areas where there is growth potential, where your company can bring something unique to the mix and which is in-line with where your company wants to go and its brand. After identifying these areas you almost have to start all over again - sifting through your existing body of research to work out what is relevant in the light of the platforms you have identified for innovation. Some will add more depth and relevance to what you have already identified, others will highlight areas where you need to find out more and lastly, any new concept based on these platforms may themselves end up generating more insights in the process of being developed and tested.

But in many cases we are not there yet - the community specializing in insights and research are often not the people charged with implementing activities based on the insights identified, change is hard to digest among these specialists and being put in charge of it is even harder for many. Thus we still end up in the same dilemma as before: we may know what is right, but are we capable of acting upon it?

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