Top tips to uncovering consumer insights for business innovation

Matt Whale

Matt Whale is the managing director of innovation consultancy, How To Impact. The dedicated innovation agency has operated in Australia since 2008 and aims to raise the bar on the effectiveness of innovation through process, structure and behaviours that can unlock growth and a greater return on innovation investment. How To Impact is part of a four-agency collective, the Deepend Group, an independent, digital communications and innovation consultancy group.

An in-depth understanding of consumers sits at the heart of what we do at How To Impact, but we know it’s not always easy to uncover insights that will unlock a true innovation opportunity.

If you want to know how to acquire genuine hidden truths about your consumers and ways to leverage these insights to grow your business, then read on.

What is a consumer insight?

Basic consumer insights can take you some of the way to resolving your challenge, and the simpler the challenge the more a basic consumer insight seems to work. But are you really digging deep enough into the challenge to ensure your solution has the greatest chance of long-term success? Is your thinking different to everyone else’s, or have you found a short-term solution that feels comfortable, not different?

Whether you’re trying to fill your innovation pipeline with product or service ideas that will satisfy consumer need, or develop a strategy to influence buyer behaviour, insights are vital in bringing consumers closer to the heart of organisations and ensuring their strategies are consumer-centric.

Consumer insights provide an understanding of how consumers think, feel or behave, which reveal hidden truths about their core unmet needs, desires or frustrations. In other words, they expose tensions that highlight a difference between what is being experienced versus what is actually needed. Such knowledge presents opportunities by defining the unmet need and how to fulfil it, inspiring ideas that can then be explored further to assess their consumer desirably, commercial viability and technical feasibility for prioritisation and consequent development.

How do Inspiration Insights differ from typical consumer insights?

An inspiration insight is a statement that gives an accurate and deep understanding about consumer motivation that provides inspiration for business growth. Inspiration insights inspire great (and sometimes not so great) ideas. In order to make them worthwhile to an organisation, they must be functional in a business sense and have the ability to generate a range of potential solutions.

Foundation insights, or larger, more generic descriptions of how consumers currently think, are ‘nice to know’, but it’s inspiration insights that give you the ‘so what’ factor needed to make an impact.

Inspiration insights tell us something meaningful about consumer motivation and express why consumers have thought, felt or behaved in this way, and how they are currently dealing with their frustrations and unmet needs. Using such information to inspire ideas increases the chance of finding a solution that will resonate with consumers and ultimately solve a business challenge.

Inspiration Insights are also rich in context, which helps to provide valuable detail surrounding the type of consumer the insight is about and its relevance with regard to place and time. Such detail not only helps to set the scene for anyone who reads it, but also influences the type of ideas it will inspire and its degree of fertility for idea generation.

For example, looking at how to develop non-alcoholic drinks that could fit in on drinking occasions, we knew consumers felt self-conscious sometimes if they friends were drinking and they’re not. But by exploring the scenario more deeply, we learnt that the main reason for ‘dislocation’ was that traditional soft drinks are designed to drink quickly, leaving the non-drinker out of sync with the group. So, we designed much more challenging, slow-drinking flavours, like salted lychee and pear and basil sodas, that consumers not only drank slower, but also regained a little respect from their peers. The resultant drinks were released as Höpt Sodas in New Zealand.

How to uncover inspiration insights

There are a range of approaches you can adopt to increase the likelihood of uncovering Inspiration Insights, some of which are outlined below:

Moments of engagement: Key moments across the consumer journey are a great place to start. For example, how does the journey begin (product or service awareness/consideration)? What happens during the critical usage phases (product or service selection/purchase/usage)? And how does it end (product or service re-purchase)?

Every consumer – past, present and future: Engage with your existing, lapsed, competitor and desired consumers to understand who they are and what’s most important, and unimportant, to them. Why did they differ? What are their trigger-points for changing behaviour?

Experts: Seek advice from experts who service your consumers and have knowledge to share to give you a fresh perspective. But don’t stick to the close-in experts, explore with experts who understand the challenge in related worlds.

Ask the right questions and actively listen: Ask open-ended questions to your consumers so the conversation can flow openly and naturally. Listen carefully to their responses and be aware of emotive language that could reflect what they really like or really dislike. Practice the 5 Why’s of investigation – focus on a critical attitude or behaviour and ask Why 5 times, until you’ve uncovered the deeper motivation.

In-situ observation: Spend time engaging with and observing consumers in their natural surroundings to get a clearer picture of who they really are. You could visit their home and/or workplace and rummage through their fridge/pantry, or observe them in a retail environment to understand their shopping and purchasing behaviour. Be aware of ‘say/do’ gaps in these situations, which occur when a consumer says they do one thing, but their behaviour suggests they actually do the opposite.

Be empathetic: Start living like your consumers to gain a deeper understanding of what life is like for them. Learn to walk in their shoes by mirroring their behaviour and lifestyle traits. Eat the same food/drink, for example, visit the same stores, and watch the same television shows.

Capture clues that intrigue you: Every time you undertake some form of research on or about your consumers, be sure to capture clues. These are direct comments or observations that intrigue you, which are free from judgement or personal opinion. Clues are the starting point of insight generation.

Join the dots: Once you have a series of clues, cluster any that are connected in some way to form beginning insight territories. Explore the meaning behind each clue cluster and speculate what this tells us about the consumer. Then add more context to your hunches to craft compelling inspiration insight statements.

Tags: customer engagement, marketing strategy, data-driven marketing

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