Originally posted by Massimo A. Cealti on Linkedin
“Insights” have been spreading like a meme, to a point which starts to puzzle me. Do we all mean the same thing when we talk about insights? Why are insights so trendy? Are they ear-catching so everyone loves to mention them in business contexts? Because insight IS cool as it proves you are consumer centric. Well let’s park this discussion on business mantras for the moment…
According to Google Trends: “insight” [search performed on 29/03/2016] is on a decreasing trend; however it certainly still resonates pretty well with C-execs.
The insight roots
Shedding some light on the topic may be worthwhile: in a broad context Insight is “the understanding of a specific cause and effect in a specific context”. The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “the ability to have a clear, deep, and sometimes sudden understanding of a complicated problem or situation”.
The term insight is so popular it has come to occupy a whole semantic space:
- an interesting piece of information;
- the act of understanding the inner nature of things or of seeing intuitively
- an introspection;
- the power of acute observation and deduction, penetration, discernment, perception or intellection;
- an understanding of cause and effect based on identification of relationships and behaviors within a model, context, or scenario.
A definition of insights
In a business context a consumer insight is: A fundamental human truth, which resonates with a specific group of people in one or more markets about a brand, product category or service and which can be powerful enough to change people’s behavior and can become a competitive advantage if competitively differentiated.
By making an insight competitively differentiated and acting upon it by devising commercial initiatives (i.e. any type of marketing/advertising, product or commercial activity) a brand can in some way “own” the insight and fully leverage upon its power. We could say an insight is universal when it resonates with the majority of people, and of course the more an insight is “universal” the more powerful it can become as a competitive advantage.
An insight must belong to the realm of “consumer (universal) truths” but not all consumer truths are insights: an example could be “every woman thinks she knows how to shop”; however it would be difficult for a brand or company to own this and make it competitively differentiated so that it can become an advantage.
One famous example of a good consumer insight can be found in the positioning of l’Oréal “parce que je le vaux bien/because I’m worth it”. The underlying insight is a fundamental truth which initially was not not specific to the l’Oréal brands but which l’Oréal strongly leveraged upon as a first mover and became the insight “owner”. The insight may be simplistically expressed like this: I want to invest in my own beauty because feeling beautiful makes me feel good towards myself and in the eyes of others.
This applies to an even greater extent to female Chinese graduates, last year in Shanghai I saw a TV report whereby many young female graduates (even engineers) were facing so much competition – each year 4 million students graduate from the Chinese Universities – that they have plastic surgery to remove their Asian eyelids in the hope of “standing out” as better looking during recruitment interviews.
Leaving differences in opinions aside, whether an insight stems from inductive or deductive thinking, from rational knowledge or epiphany/intuition (an insight that suddenly manifests itself is also called by the German word “Aha-Erlebnis”, term coined by the German psychologist and linguist Karl Bühler), from intellect or sensory perception, what is relevant from a business perspective is: how do we get to an insight?
For the moment let’s focus our “inward eye” on the understanding of the subtle but fundamental differences among the various elements that can lead to the insight because this is the single most important contribution insights professionals can offer.
Only then can we be as happy as William Wordsworth watching the daffodils.