I’m glad you asked me that…

I never cease to be amazed by the ingenuity and originality of procurement departments. No, really…I don’t think I’ve ever been asked exactly the same question twice. But the hardest question I’ve ever been asked by a procurement guy is: ‘What is insight?’

OK…should I go with the standard response of ‘it’s about actionable/value added interpretation that drives successful/profitable brands…’, or perhaps try a different tack? I went the latter route. Here’s an abridged version of what I said:

True insight is about:

  1. Going beyond the obvious. People may tell us that they’re ‘happy’ with a brand, yet beneath the surface of their (rational response) their commitment to it is eroding. Typically this may manifest itself in declines in behavioural metrics such as purchase/visit frequency, but their cause is often non-rational . Insight is about using all the tools available (see point 4) to elicit how people are feeling as well as thinking about your brand.
  2. Recognising that customers are human, We are all capable of thinking rationally, but there are real limits (boundaries) to the exercise of that rationality in practice. Hence complex conjoint exercises that assume people can trade-off the utilities of different policy benefits of an insurance product may miss the simple insight that that isn’t how people choose them.
  3. Recognising that context is key– where you ask a question is as important as how you ask it. Thus asking someone about customer experience in a branch is likely to be more useful than ‘phoning  them two weeks after the event, when recall of the experience has faded.
  4. Making use of all the tools available. Conventional research only goes so far because asking people questions typically elicits a rational response and will often not reveal feelings (towards a brand or ad) that a person may not even be aware that they have. That’s why we have to supplement conventional questioning with non-verbal approaches, indirect questioning and ethnography to access that part of the consumer’s mind that they can’t tell us about.
  5. Looking forwards as well as not backwards . Businesses often rely on metrics such as consideration which move slowly and often reflect past market place changes rather than flag up future trends. Insight is about recognising that the past is no guide to the future. While ‘Black Swans’ (random, game-changing events) are mercifully rare, the events of the last decade have taught us to expect the unexpected. Insight is not about predicting the future, but it is about identifying the risks in continuing with current strategy – so that businesses can stress test for unexpected events
  6. Recognising that no business exists in a bubble. Insight is as much about observing what’s going on in the market place and wider society as interpreting the responses from surveys. True insight comes from watching, reading and listening as much as asking questions.
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