Q&A with TNS Managing Director Gary de Ocampo on Insighting

Q1: What is insighting and why is it important for a marketer or a businessperson to have insight?

A1: Insighting” is basically the process of understanding what consumers need or want. It is getting to the heart of people’s thoughts, motivations and behaviors to inspire business opportunity.

In that simple definition, one can immediately understand why “insighting” is important – even necessary to most. Any business exists to satisfy the needs of the consumers of its products and services. How can a business know how to satisfy these needs if it does not know what these needs are in the first place?

“Insighting” serves as basis for business ideas that eventually become products or service offers.

Q2: How do you get insight? Will you get it each time you meet the same customer?

A2: Some people like the late Steve Jobs have this uncanny ability to understand on their own what their target markets need and desire, and then effectively translate this understanding into winning products and services. However, there are relatively few of them around. We only get this notion that this ability is common because these few are often much celebrated.

Most of us need help in order to gain consumer insight or understanding. There are techniques available to us from market research practitioners who have spent years and years of developing, revising and refining tools and approaches using breakthrough discoveries in psychology, mathematics, statistics, behavioural economics and other fields.

We are constantly reminded that customers are human beings, and human beings are multi-faceted. No one is purely archetypal. Everyone has different needs in different occasions in different product or service categories. I could be a control freak when it comes to medicines, but I could be very adventurous when it comes to technology gadgets. The dynamic ambience of a fast food could very well be acceptable (or even desirable) for me at lunch time, but a relaxing and sophisticated full-service restaurant could be my only choice for dinner. I could be very strict and uncompromising in the workplace but be very gentle and accommodating at home. Any “insighting” exercise should take this universal truth about human beings into account. Hardly any generalization can work anymore.

Q3: How do you know you have the right insight?

A3: A “right’ insight makes intuitive sense and is validated by consumer experience. You know that you have stumbled upon a “right” insight when the learning springs you into action – whether it is for creating a new product or service, communicating the image positioning of a brand, designing the packaging or distribution system of your offering, or formulating a public policy.

The “right” insight is never just a piece of nice-to-know information. A very simple way is to keep asking yourself “so what?” until it becomes clear to you that you need to act with a certain measure of urgency. If “so what?” brings you nowhere, throw away your supposed “insight.” It may only be interesting from a human curiosity point of view, but it could likely be rubbish as far as your marketing purpose is concerned.

Q4: From among the many tensions or pain points, how do you know which one to focus on?

A4: One way is to size up the market segment that has these pain points and try to estimate the incremental business potential of your innovation and product development targeted at addressing these tensions. What is the size of the price?

However, we do take care not to dismiss immediately the pain points that are currently only present in small market segments. It could only be that the other segments have yet to catch on.

Another is to assess how cluttered the market segment already is – is it a blue or red ocean?

Still another is ranging the market need against your company’s capabilities. Do you even have the license to operate in this segment? Do you have the expertise, credibility and resources to go into that space?

If ever we get to testing concepts to address pain points, we focus on which one/s has/have the highest potential to bring in incremental volume. What is the point in launching a new product or service that will just cannibalize your current portfolio?

In the end, value creation from addressing the pain point or tension must align with business goals.

Q5: Can you have a good insight but a bad strategy?

A5: Definitely, and, unfortunately, this happens very often. While good insight is the inspiration for the development of a potentially good strategy, good consumer insight does not guarantee good strategy.

Good strategy has to do a lot more hard work beyond stumbling upon good consumer insight. There is the critical importance of having a sober and brutally frank assessment of a brand or organization’s strengths and weaknesses. You cannot immediately go for increasing market share when your biggest problem is as basic as grossly ineffective product or inefficient production facilities. You have to know where you are coming from to know and plan for what it will take to get to where you are headed.

Translating a good insight into a value-adding product or service will require that the brand is able to leverage well its company capabilities (which Henry Mintzberg defined to comprise: resource (what to use) + processes (how to use) + priorities (why use); deep appreciation of the macro environment; and market dynamics (including an understanding of competition).

Another critical part of a good strategy is effective cascade of understanding and the actual implementation. This part is probably even more difficult. Many a strategy has fallen by the wayside in this phase. I have lost count of clients who had eureka moments when they came face-to-face with inspiring consumer insights. With renewed energy and excitement, they went on to cascade the new learning, even restructured their respective organizations only to be disappointed and disheartened later on by hugely embarrassing failures. A usual cause of poor implementation is lack of common understanding of the consumer insight that is the basis for the business strategy. This is because it is easy for proponents to make the fatal assumption that it will be as easy for the rest of the organization to understand the consumer insight and strategy as it has been for them.

Q6: What are some simple and practical techniques anyone can try to generate insight?

A6: Ethnography is one effective way to find consumer insights. This is such a wonderful technique because the researcher immerses himself in the life of the consumer as he observes the latter over the course of a whole day or a number of days. The context within which research learning is found always proves to be immensely powerful.

Aside from the usual focus group discussions, whose effectiveness greatly relies on the moderator’s expertise in drawing out useful responses, there is the growing use of social media chatter. There is so much feedback being thrown out there unfettered, uncontrolled, unmoderated and with abandon onto the internet by individuals who have found the liberating feeling of saying how they feel about anything without the fear of being ostracized or discriminated against. It really sounds like one of the holy grails of market research! The challenge, however, is daunting for the researcher to sift through the staggering amount of conversations to get to the insight gems.

This is one area where quantitative surveys continue to deliver value. It can provide structure to social media chatter. It can serve as a guide on how to organize and classify social media comments, and identify which has weight and which may be ignored and discarded. It, of course, also helps us size up the importance of insights we get from, say, ethnography and FGDs.

In both qualitative and quantitative research, it is of utmost importance that the researcher knows what questions are most effective to ask because just any question that elicits just any answer will not do. We have to circumvent the tendency of respondents – particularly Filipinos – to give courteous responses, which will only mislead marketers. Rationalization and interview fatigue should be avoided at all cost. In qualitative research, we have to get to the whys by asking questions that do not encourage respondents to be defensive about their answers. In quantitative studies – where we usually do not have as much time to conduct the survey as we have in qualitative studies – it is a must to know exactly what questions give us valid answers so we can discard the rest, which are of no value anyway. Shorter, smarter surveys are the way to go for quantitative research.

I mentioned earlier the holy grails of market research, one of which is complete candor in expressing experiences and motivations. Another one is capturing sentiments at the “moments of truth” – that is, real time. With almost everyone going mobile – most even leapfrogging the PC, doing quantitative surveys has also become possible.

So, what are these simple and practical techniques to generate insights? Understand context via qualitative research. Harness the power of social media. Provide structure and measure size via quantitative research. Capture “moments of truth” via mobile.

How then do we make sure that the learning we get from these is really an insight?

At TNS, we force these findings to pass a litmus test that we call the “Insight Trinity” to help us screen and identify which of these may truly be called insights.

The first of the trinity is consumer truth. This is the observed behaviour of the consumer that is relevant to the product or service category being studied. It is a simple fact about somebody’s life or usage of a specific product. It is the objective part of an insight.

The second is consumer need. What human need is demonstrated in the observed behaviour? This is the most important element of the insight. Without it, the insight becomes bland, passive and prompts the response “what is this for?”

Finally, there is the consumer friction. This is the consumer problem that the marketer should strive to give a solution to. The friction makes the insight powerful, inspiring and active. It represents the opportunity for a new product if you can offer a solution to the friction.

Our point of view is that all these 3 simple elements should be present before we call anything an insight. One usual example that we give to illustrate this is the tanning lotion product:

Consumer truth: I like to look tanned…
Consumer need:  …because it gives me confidence…
Consumer friction:  …but I am scared of the damage the sun could cause to my skin.  Further, fake tan doesn’t look natural.


(JOSIAH GO is chairman of marketing training company Mansmith and Fielders Inc. For complete interview as well as his interview with other though leaders, follow his blog at www.josiahgo.com)

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