The Crows are currently immersed in one of their favourite tasks: looking for data and insight that can lead to some sparkling innovation. Cue deep dive into investigating product launches, product failures, insight reports, virtual shopping and some remote Consumer Connections. Piecing together the parts and testing hypotheses. there’s no doubt: Crows love being nosey!
It was a point of real frustration, what psychologists call a ‘trigger point’. A client pushing for everdeeper insights. “We need to mine for them, reveal the hidden beliefs and the unconscious needs”, she said.
“But what about all the blindingly observations and truths about your consumer? The ones you already have and have been consistently ignoring for the past two years?”, I retorted, in my head.
The conversation rolled on: how research moderators let their own biases or poor questioning distance themselves from the real truth, failing to uncover the deeper needs. They would prove to be the key that unlocks the door to future prosperity, apparently.
Yet here was a business posting mid single digit volume and profit declines with unrelenting consistency, with fragile to no brand momentum and struggling to create a meaningful vision, a meaningful agenda for their categories. And they want to dig deeper?
A related story. I was once involved in an Ethnographic research project when ethnography was the ‘new news’. A drinks client, dissatisfied with existing research techniques and wanting to be at the bleeding edge to discover deeper, more profound insights. £140,000 later and what we in fact discover is that what consumers really look for in this particular type of (cold) drink…. is that it’s always chilled. Bleeding edge? Bleeding something, right enough. Here was a business that wanted to distract itself from the hard work of doing the basics brilliantly – right outlets, right experience; right serve – to chase the fancy dream of a White Knight in Shining Armour*
Understanding of your target market can come from all sorts of directions – not just down.
I mean, yes, it is possible to find unconscious needs: through gaming or role-playing, through well purposed ethnography and longitudinal studies, through metaphor and story telling. There are ways. But the question at the end of it all is: will it be usable by my brand? Will I be able to plan stuff off it that builds my brand? All too often, seemingly profound ‘insights’ are unusable, and therefore of no value.
Me? I like shrewd observation. I like accompanying harassed parents as they go shopping with their kids, or chatting to a Grandmum about the pressures of feeding their grandchildren ‘the right things’ in the short window of opportunity between nursery finishing and Mum getting home to check. Or talking to a Big Issue seller about their journey from homelessness, from being bereft of hope and opportunity, to seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Of sitting alongside someone sifting through their e-mails and all the requests to give or buy. Or the businessman in a forecourt shop balancing a wallet and loyalty card in one hand, with his keys and a bottle of pop in the other, whilst the Assistant asks him if he would like to fill in a customer survey to win a Grand.
And I like collision. Of throwing the observations together. Of seeing what crashes out of the carnage. Of seeing where the ensuing conversation reveals about what we really think, truly believe. The juxtaposition does this: ‘you may think I’m a bit well, weird, behaving like this…but look at them, they use twigs’. Of feeling the energy that arises when apparently conflicting ideas are forced together.
And challenging beliefs. To feel the nervous energy as someone realises that their belief is more of a doctrine and really isn’t supported by fact. But hell, they’re going to believe it anyway and what are you going to do it about Mr Researcher?
Getting real insights is like active listening. Proper listening is hard. To switch off (or at least turn the volume right down) of the voice in your head, and concentrating on what the other person is saying. Of checking their meaning, not challenging. Of listening to the words, not developing counter arguments. Getting real insight is like that: it’s like being a detective or policeman. You’re looking for the things that aren’t said, that aren’t done as well as those things that are. It’s about setting up hypotheses and working through them. And when you’ve found the cause, prosecuting the hell out of it.
Because more than anything else, a good insight is only ‘good’ if it is usable by your brand or your company. If it allows you to do and plan something, not just now, but for a few years at least. How ever you find your insight, if you can’t act on it, or are not willing to, save your time and your money and do something else.
*The armour has to shine, not sure why.
**I don’t, you’re quite normal, trust me
David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that discovers and maps the direct route to success for categories and brands. firstname.lastname@example.org; +44 (0) 7885 408367
Marketing as a discipline seems to be its own worst enemy when it comes to practising what it preaches. Brands become great by owning a simple thought then ruthlessly and rigourously focusing on establishing it in the mind of their target. Yet with the buffeting of competitor activity, internal discussions, complex planning processes and competing business priorities, that clarity is lost.
One of the most common strategies to regain the focus is to fall back on ‘insight’. An industry has grown up in its own right just based on defining the term. Researchers and research manager wring their hands over new research techniques or picking holes in old, established ones, for finding deeper insights. The insight journey for businesses sees it become at first, central (the research team is renamed the Insight Department), then it becomes a widely-used ‘strategic amplifier’ (‘insight’ is added to other terms to add professional clout – rather like, quite ironically, the word ‘strategy’ itself) and finally it becomes devalued (Insight is dead: ‘Foresight’ anyone?).
It’s a shame. It’s a shame because the reality is that well-grounded insight can be one of the keys to unlock growth. And it’s a shame that an environment of insight alchemy has sprung up around it. Unlike Lord Percy Percy in Blackadder, “a nugget of Purest Green” is not our desired outcome nor is the ancient and mystical art of alchemy our desired process. It can be much simpler.
Trust Your Gut: everyday I’m struck by how human beings are defined more by how similar we are, rather than how different we are. So when looking for insights, write down your hypotheses; go in to looking for insights with a view, a perspective, something on your mind. If it makes you feel better, think of it as Scientific Method because in effect, that’s what it is. If one explanation seems to work for you: capture it; there’s a good chance it could be valid. However…
Be happy being wrong: that’s a geographical expression called ‘equifinality’: different ways of getting to the same result. It happens all the time. Imagine you’re trying to understand why so many shoppers in supermarkets don’t buy fresh flowers. For you, it could be because you prefer the range at Interflora – so you glance but move quickly by. Someone else doesn’t because they’re afraid they’ll get crushed whilst doing the rest of the shop, then they forget. A third person doesn’t because they’re not sure if there’s a wrapping service. Same result: different reason. Stay open to the possibilities.
Being Poirot: no, I don’t mean mince around as if waddling, but be observant, be curious, ask the seemingly blindingly obvious question and use ‘the leetle grey cells’: everything is potentially a clue to help you unlock your business opportunity or issue. Well, not everything – but everything within the scope you have defined. “Chance favours the mind made ready” as Louis Pasteur wrote. Most importantly capture it (Evernote; scrapbook; post-its…you decide) and ideally make it visible.
Crash, Bang, Wallop: perhaps the observations you make above will be enough for you to drive growth. Perhaps you need to look further: if so, look for tensions between what you observe; look for how things jar; look for the possibilities that arise from crashing your data together. These tensions in particular are rich territory: they point to what is missing in people’s lives; what problems you could solve for them; spaces in to which your brand or category can move. Where’s there’s no tension, you’re probably barking up the wrong tree.
Be choosy: this may sound counter-intuitive, but the problem shouldn’t be finding insights for growth but choosing which you can best exploit. Think about which fit your brand opportunity; what natural assets you have which you can exploit the opportunity with; which feel big; which feel different and which solve problems for consumers.
But most of all relax. Finding insights isn’t the only panacea of category or brand building but there’s not doubt that having them builds your confidence in where you’re going and how you plan to get there. And finding them certainly isn’t alchemy.