As we start working through the start of a new year, we see new plans, new strategies. This reminds me of one critical element that I see lacking in many strategies or plans is INSIGHT.
This is a simple word that means many different things to people, so I’d like to take time to define what Insight means to me. As brand and business strategists and market observers, we have a strong interest in identifying the potential actionable insights from mere interesting observations or descriptions.
Here are my guidelines to use when considering whether something you observe is ‘an insight’ worthy of building a brand effort around.
1. Insights say more about the target than about the product or service.
The effectiveness of recent social media invaders- snapchat for example – has been that they have an insight into the lifestyles of their users. Snapchat’s insight is that youngsters want to share their lives through social media BUT don’t want their lifestyle to stick around. They do dumb things but these, like their memories of them, should go- quickly. Snapchat’s effectiveness zeroed in on teen and twenties lifestyles and be based on an ephemeral basis- here now, celebrated; gone tomorrow. The main insight was that potential users are very sensitive to how people outside of their social set of peers see them – whether positively and negatively- and they don’t want to leave a permanent record of their fleeting thoughts captured on their phones or the internet. This insight has very little to do with snapchat’s software and everything to do with the target consumer.
2. Insights are more about the category than the brand.
The Micro-brewing phenomenon is a result of the wider beer category becoming boring and ignoring more educated consumers who want to be known for the acumen of their beer choice. While Beer is all about consistency; for consumers who wish to be seen by others as knowledgeable individuals- consistency is not what they want. Wine is perfect for them and the language that has built up around wine is deep, rich, meaningful and a special code telling those who are “in the know” from those who are outsiders or posers. The insight of micro-brewers was to tell stories about how and why their beer is different (genuine, authentic, hand crafted, variable, ingredients based, small batch etc etc), providing a new and relevant language for consumer to use to describe their products and provide new, interesting, different and distinctive brands built around ingredients, processes and crafts-people. They also created beer that really WAS different. The great inhibitor and insight is that if the beer is TOO distinctive/ too different it didn’t sell. Intelligent microbrewers told a great story, produced one or two world class distinctive brews (to keep the aficionados happy and coming back to the brand, giving the brand a “seal of authoritative approval”) and had a range of beer that could be appreciated by a wider range of consumers who want to appear to be knowledgeable. The Monteith’s brand in New Zealand was superb leveraging this insight to create a major micro-brewing business in a highly competitive business.
3. Insights reveal more about how people want to feel than what they think.
Brands are adopted because they help customers feel better, not just because they do a better job of offering benefits consumers think they want. We want the brands that fit the life we want to lead. Brand strategist, David Lemley, puts it this way: “Said plainly, “I love you because of who I get to be when I am with you.” Brands built on insights about desired lifestyle are among the best loved and most successful in the world. I think Heineken beer- presenting the feeling of worldly wise guy, or Corona being a beach holiday in a bottle, or BMW as an ultimate driving machine perfectly encapsulate this feeling- its not about the product its all about the feeling
Discovering how people want to feel is sometimes more difficult than discovering what they think. Feelings go right to our deepest needs and values. People are less likely to come right out and say they want to feel loved, secure, indulged, healthy, smart, adventurous and productive than they are to say they want products that are affordable, taste good or have a longer warranty.The best way to achieve this is to keep asking WHY? As you research consumers keep asking them why though in-depth research and you’ll happen upon deep feelings that are needed by all humans, typically associated with parts of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Find an insight based one of a dozen basic emotions and it is possible to build a brand people will love, not just buy.
4. Insights focus more on what is enduring than what is new.
Enduring brands are often built on lasting values. If your insight is likely to be gone tomorrow, chances are it is not an insight worth investing in. Doc Martens is a brand that prides itself on being the antithesis of trendy. For over 150 years, it has made quality foot wear for people in the farm and construction industries. Workers have come to know Doc Martens as the authentic brand. During the early 80’s, its work wear was adopted by Punk subculture. Top Punk groups were wearing Doc Martens boots in their media presence and in performances onstage. Doc Martens footwear even made it onto the pages of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. Regrettably Doc Marten’s marketing team thought this was great and started making shoes for punks and other niche consumers and lost their link with their real workers market. Sales collapsed after the pink trend died and for a decade Doc martens was in the wilderness, until they went back to what they were good at – making great shoes for working people, but now those workers were also in offices as well as being outdoors. Staying true to its core values is what has, and will, make this brand strong.
Some brands that appear to be built on fads, are actually the antithesis. For example, Abercrombie & Fitch is based on the insight that pre-teen adolescents want to wear fashions that are lasting and make them fit in, not stand out. Their clothing is a clever blend of classic styles of jeans, t-shirts and sweatshirts, with trend-following, not trend- setting, details. But this insight has been lost in recent years as too many kids were seen wearing A&F and teen influencers wanted something new to set them apart and fit together as a clique.
5. Insights stimulate new ideas and thinking, not the same old stuff.
Real insights are not just ‘good to know’; they should challenge you to act in new interesting ways. Reebok footwear ‘discovered’ the insight that women athletes are not simply men with smaller feet. Men and women mean something completely different when they say ‘sports shoe’. While both expect a sports shoe to perform, something to help them excel, they want something completely different in terms of styling. Women are more likely to mean something that suits a variety of occasions without being boring or ‘too sensible’ too athletic. This idea lead to new ways to address the sports merchandise needs of women (e.g., mix fashionable with classic sports shoe styles) and treat them differently when they are in the store.
Conclusion: Don’t reject an insight just because it seems obvious. First ask yourself:
- Does it reveal something actionable about the target? (is it relevant to your brand and the consumer, meaningful to the consumer, and distinctive?
- Does it relate to the category driver?
- Does it capture how consumers want to feel?
- Does it speak to an enduring consumer value?
- Does it challenge the brand to act in new ways?