The secret behind creating quality shopper insights

There is lots of talk about the power of insights in marketing. Most advice I read on shopper marketing talks about the importance of shopper insights driving shopper marketing initiatives. Insights are undoubtedly at the heart of any marketing, including shopper marketing, but a recent conversation made me realize that perhaps there are many people out there who might be struggling with exactly how to create insights, particularly really good ones.

In a recent workshop with a client, one of the participants came up to me during a break and asked, somewhat sheepishly, “How do you create an insight?”. Her manner was interesting, as though this was something she was scared to ask – as if this was something she was supposed to know.

My first instinct was to rattle off the process that we coach; whereby we search for hypotheses and then use data to build evidence to prove, or disprove the hypothesis, and then to understand the value behind it.

But I then anticipated the next (hidden question) – where do the hypotheses come from? I could have blandly rattled off that they come from experience, gut feeling, expert opinion, but I sensed that wouldn’t really help her.

Creating insights is one of those things that make marketing so interesting – a blend of magic and science that somehow enables people to be able to conjure simple brilliance from apparently nowhere.

So how do you create an insight?

  • Don’t go looking for them. Wait for them to find you. For this to work, you need to be always open to them. And that is the challenge; insights don’t always announce themselves. Some do – they slap you in the face in a big “aha” and one is left wondering why we didn’t think of that before!
  • Flood yourself in information. Read lots. Be always interested and aware of everything. Read everything you can find on your category, customer, market, competitors. Read unrelated stuff. Follow Twitter curators (@shopperexperts for example). Go to stores and just send time observing. Insights often come from making connections between apparently unrelated data.
  • Get to know the data. When you need to find insights, immersion is the name of the game Seriously. Dig in. Not just the latest report, but ANYTHING YOU CAN GET YOUR HANDS ON. Read. Know it backwards, forwards, upside down and back to front.
  • Stop and reflect. Once you’ve eye-balled all the data – Wait. Go and do something else. Think about something else. Allow the neurons in your head to fizz over this for a while. If a thought pops into your head, play with it and then let it go (but do write it down). Insights don’t always enter the world fully formed with a big flashing label on them. Insights can be subtle at first – they sometimes need time to mature like a fine wine.
  • Write out hypotheses. Write out all of your ideas and hypotheses and thoughts. Turn them upside down. Look at the data in a different way? Ask “what ifs”. Invert the answer (if your first thought is “20 percent of shoppers do x” – consider what the 80% are doing.
  • Back to the data. Go back to the data, or go and get some more, to prove or disprove the hypothesis.
  • Size the Prize. An insight isn’t really interesting unless it is valuable and actionable. How much might it be worth? What needs to be done to implement it?

Insight creation is not an exact science, but there are lots that can be done to get more insights, more easily. If you have any other tips or tricks which help you create your killer insights drop them in the comments box, I’m sure we can all learn from each others methods.

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