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What are consumer insights?

Thomas Carlyle says it best: “nothing is more terrible than activity without insight.” 

Well, maybe not nothing, but you get the idea.

Many researchers classify an insight as “a universal human truth” – something that tells you something truly unique about an audience. 

These insights form the building blocks of any solid strategy (or story), because they’re what make said strategy (or story) land with the right people.

Take advertising, for example. It wouldn’t exist without insights. Well, it would exist, but it probably wouldn’t be great.

The infamous #LikeAGirl campaign for Always never would have existed had the teams at Leo Burnett Chicago and Holler not had stellar researchers who uncovered the insight that over half of girls quit sports at puberty as a result of a crisis in confidence.

Our screens would have never been blessed with the Old Spice man on the horse for “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” had research by Wieden and Kennedy not revealed 60% of body wash purchases were made by women.

We could go on, but you most likely get the point.

At a basic level, businesses need insights to identify the needs of their audiences – specifically, how and why they carry out certain actions.  

But finding these so-called “human truths” lies in knowing what to look for – gathering, analyzing and interpreting the right data to make sure it’s actionable – one of the most important skills for marketers (and storytellers of any kind) today.

Why “good” data makes all the difference

Let’s put this way: the better your data, the better your decisions.

Lots of brands still rely on their own first-party sources to uncover revealing insights about their consumers. The problem with this is it’s too one-sided – there’s nothing to back it up, validate it, or compare it against, and you usually only get to dive into the “what”, not the “why”; so you know what they’re doing, but not why they’re doing it.

Coupling first-party data with rich survey data that validates everything you think you know about behaviors, then shows you the motivations, attitudes and perceptions that put those behaviors into action – that’s where you’ll uncover the “good” stuff.

Insights like these provide a holistic construct of the types of consumers interested in buying from your brand. The result? You deliver impactful messages, at the right time, for the best return.

But what does it really take to create a consumer insight that drives meaningful creativity?

1. Focus on the real problems.

Finding the right answers starts with asking the right questions. Defining the key strategic business questions you need to answer ensures you know what to look for.

As Think with Google points out, the pandemic has shined a light on marketing budgets and urged us all to “get a grip” on quite a few things. 

Most marketers worth their salt will agree that to truly matter, marketing KPIs must be tied to broader business goals, like helping to increase sales or focusing on customer retention, so finding the answers to these questions is key…

  • Are sales down for a particular consumer segment?
  • Is there a need to shift brand perceptions?
  • Are you hoping to focus on a new target group?
  • Are you simply hoping to develop more of an understanding of your audiences?

This will help to inform your research process from the outset – giving you clear direction on what to look for and why.

“The biggest [factor to consider] is what the business is trying to achieve”, says Tom Primrose, Strategic Planner at Southpaw. “It’s about understanding where they’re at and where they want to go.”

2. Use the right data.

High-quality data is one of the most valuable commodities in a marketer’s toolkit. In contrast, dodgy data sets drain marketing resources and limit marketing effectiveness.

Unfortunately working with data from legacy systems with no single or unified customer view isn’t exactly unknown. That’s because the customer experience is increasingly complex due to the proliferation of devices and channels, and organizational conflicts can lead to siloed data and duplicate customer records across multiple databases.

But there’s a simple solution. 

Today, you can use platforms with 100% harmonized data across audiences, regions, and research waves. Having all your data in one place means you 

3. Keep it simple.

When it comes to authentic marketing strategies, it’s the simple ideas that have the most impact. By focusing on the simple, yet defining aspects of your consumer insight, you can hone in on the ideas that stick.

While for every agency and marketing department an insight takes a different form, for Jamie Robinson, Global Research and Insight Director at WeAreSocial, this makes up no more than a couple of sentences – something for creatives and marketers alike to continually refer back to.

This keeps their efforts on track to creating an impactful campaign, bred from a simple idea:

“The insight is typically no more than two sentences that you can stick on the wall. This helps to describe the interpersonal truth that we want our idea to hook onto.”

By keeping the focus on the consumer and the perceptions within, this will help the creative to tap into the mindset of your target audience, leveraging the fundamental truth that’s been uncovered.

4. Create personas and customer journey maps.

Sifting through this data and looking for the things that stick is the next key step to get to that truth.

Using in-depth consumer data to understand who they are, what motivates them, what their priorities are, and what daily challenges they face is how you can find the consumer insights to hit home.

“If you don’t have that initial ‘this is your audience’, you wind up making too many assumptions”, says Ben Sharma, PR Executive at Engage at Bell Pottinger.

Start by drafting real-life buyer personas that bring your demographics to life, and give your data some context.

With this data you can also map the many consumer journeys you want to track and every touchpoint involved – meaning you know exactly how your consumers interact with your brand.  

For Joe Portman and Sharmin Rashed, Junior Strategists at Analog Folk, journey maps play a central role in their efforts to get the level of audience understanding they need.

“There is the consumer journey that maps the purchase journey, but there’s also the day to day of that consumer’s life which influences every part of that journey”, says Joe. 

“Not only do the clients love to see them, it helps everyone from the creatives to ourselves to better understand our audiences”, says Sharmin.

5. Decide what feelings you’re trying to change.

The next step is figuring out what feelings and perceptions you want to change, taking you all the way from the consumer insight to the creative message.

This again comes back to the real problems you’re trying to solve, but your idea can take on a new lease of life depending on what you discover in the data.

Lidl first embarked on their ‘Lidl Surprises’ campaign in a bid to shift perceptions across the UK of the brand’s produce as low-quality – and it’s still going strong in 2021.

This powerful rebranding effort was born out of consumer research that revealed many Brits think of Lidl’s supply chain in a ‘derogatory way’.

This insight urged the UK marketing team to work on shifting perceptions in a way that would appeal to their target audience: real working moms and weekly shoppers.

The campaign proved hugely successful in turning the brand’s negative image into a positive one.

“We’re not just recycling the same message about price”, UK Marketing Director Claire Farrant told Marketing Week. “You see real people in our TV ads and we’re changing their perceptions of our brand.

I don’t see other supermarkets doing that on the same level. We use real people, they don’t. We’re not afraid to voice the feeling of the nation at the time even if that’s about addressing negativity.”

Putting this data-driven approach into practice, brands like Lidl are proving the power of marketing that reflects real people.

And the end result, if you do it right, is a creative message that truly resonates.

6. Sort your consumers into smaller groups.

Some data’s easier to use when it’s connected to certain segments or individuals. 

Choose which segments to study based on your goals; are you trying to appeal to a new audience, for example, or to drive loyalty among your existing customer base?

Grouping together personas and demographics with common attributes like age and gender to interests, perceptions, lifestyles and attitudes can give you a deeper understanding of their motivations – and it helps build the level of empathy you need to drive meaningful engagement.

This can also help you identify lookalike audiences to broaden your reach, or point you in the direction of the right influencers, platforms and content types to focus on.

7. Tell the story behind the data.

Consumer insights are not just for researchers. These fundamental truths behind your audience help you to understand what really defines them.

This plays a hugely important role in driving more targeted business decisions and helping your organization keep consumers and the customer experience at the forefront.

But data can be overwhelming, especially to those who don’t work with it daily.

This is why presenting your most relevant findings in an accessible way is key.

Using visual aids like graphs and charts help to bring the stats to life, while honing in on the consumer insights they have led you to will tell the story behind your data and spark innovative ideas that work.

8. Put it all into context.

An insight without context is pretty much useless.

It’s only useful once it sits in place with your own goals, coupled with behavioral data to pinpoint its right message, timing, and placement.

Having a diverse team at your disposal is invaluable when it comes to unlocking this value.

By working with other consumer-facing colleagues across teams and departments, combining what they know with in-depth consumer data, you can paint a more holistic picture and trigger the great ideas.

Drawing inspiration from powerful examples of brands putting consumer insights into practice is one way to spark these ideas.

A great example: Essity, #PainStories

In its latest campaign, Essity, home of Libresse and Bodyform, has looked to its core audience, women, to speak up about the terrors of endometriosis.

Endometriosis is experienced by an estimated 1 in 10 women worldwide – but is still thought to be hugely under-diagnosed.

In a custom research report which collated interviews with women across the world, the brand presented a jarring view of what women suffering from this condition have experienced, from huge levels of pain and anxiety to a lack of sufficient or appropriate medical care.

One theme that kept reappearing was the lack of understanding of women’s pain. 

According to Tanja Grubner at Essity, they found that “women’s pain is systematically overlooked… dismissed, ignored and misdiagnosed.”

In response to the findings and existing data, the brand launched its #PainStories campaign. 

It comprises creative assets like a ‘pain museum’ and ‘pain dictionary’ to educate the public as much as possible, and to showcase an issue many women struggle with in silence.

It’s a strong example of a global brand using third-party data and harvesting its own insight to pinpoint the message its consumers really want to see. And, as a bonus, the campaign brings about the possibility of change – at the moment, the average diagnosis time for endometriosis is 7.5 years.

Here’s hoping that will change.

Connect with consumers: a picture of devices and consumers in 2021

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