From Insights to Innovation


Just back from a conference in lovely Amsterdam on the subject of ‘Converting Insights into Actionable Results’, my mind buzzing with two days’ worth of presentations from the likes of Coca-Cola, Volvo, Sony-Ericsson, Procter & Gamble etc. on how they use insights in their respective companies.

In some respects it really sounds like Insights is the new buzzword replacing the now so droll-sounding ‘market research’, but in many ways people still treat it the same. They agonise over it, mine it, look for it, pay people to come up with it, talk to consumers in hope of finding it – but it seems the true gems of insight are hard to come by. They are retrospectively self-evident, as Coca-Cola likes to put it, but that statement itself makes insights hard to spot, because the ones that are really going to make the difference aren’t yet the ones that you have the luxury of hindsight to identify them with.

What also surprised me about this conference is that there is a lot of emphasis on using insights on what consumers want, need and complain about in the beginning of a process to inspire solutions, but very few, if any, have actually set up any process to detail how this feedback changes as a result of action. We use the Net Promoter Score at LEGO to drive the development of our consumer touch-points and to evaluate how successful initiatives are in improving these scores. That is a simple way of validating whether what you thought addressed a fundamental insight, actually does any such thing.

So what is the point about insights anyway? 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 are 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 people’s 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 characterised 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. 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. If you haven’t discovered that, before settling on your values, you will feel a sense of conflict later on in life, but more about that in another post.

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 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 specialising 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?

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Mark Earls says:

    v good post, C.
    I think the ‘hurdle’ understates things.
    The gap between those who ‘mine’ for insights and those who have to do something about it is a large part of the problem.
    The real deal is surely that “insight” as we call it is better understood not as a theoretical thinking thing at all but as an opportunity identified that we can actually do something about…(if it’s not one we can do something about it’s not an insight for us…)
    See my post about doing and thinking today for more of this p.o.v.
    Welcome back

  2. Martin Calle says:

    Very interesting! Stumbled across your blog and post on ‘Converting Insights into Actionable Results’ by accident. Struck a chord – converting insights into actionable results such as the creation of new brands for large consumer packaged goods companies. One of the most fun aspects of business is finding out what people want before they can articulate it – then deliver! More background at our website.

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