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Several years ago, I was taught a simple graphic: relating to how data impacts insight: 

  

Information (leads to) knowledge (leads to)
understanding (leads to) insights

   

In this equation, information (or data) must be combined and processed with other knowledge and understanding before it can become an insight.  That is where the biggest challenge (and misunderstanding) is in relation to Big Data.

Big Data is just a starting point, not the total answer.

Data by itself only gives you information.  It’s up to you to translate that data into knowledge and insights.  Data describes what happened when, where, and how and who’s involved.

The fallacy of Big Data is that more information (data) doesn’t mean you can automatically gain more insight about your business.  In fact, more data can make it more difficult to sort and sift the relevant information to truly shape business insights. 

There are many different directions that can yield business insights, but if we focus on how to gain better consumer insights, here are some thoughts.

  1. The best customer insights begin with a deep understanding of how the business works, from inside out.  The secret to building a strong client relationship is to live their business. During my career, I have been on sales calls with a client’s field salesmen, and checked at least 1,000 stores to study distribution and shelf placement, ridden a Sunbeam bread truck at 3 a.m., worked out in a sweat room at Procter and Gamble to test Secret Deodorant, toured a NAPA brake plant and interviewed NAPA store managers and countermen, conducted blind surveys at mattress stores for Simmons Beautyrest, toured a Slim Jim slaughter house, and baked Papa John’s pizzas with the founder when he discovered his store manager was sick and went home. 
  2. I’m not bragging. It’s something I just felt I needed to do to understand as much as I could about the brand, the category, the competition, and the environment in which my clients did business.  And it led to a lot of insights and ultimate branding strategies like "The Do-Not-Disturb Mattress", "We Keep America Running", "Strong enough for a man, but made for a woman", and "Better Ingredients. Better Pizza", to name a few.
  3.  Research is always a good place to start.  Qualitative research (focus groups) seem to come in and out of favor as a marketing tool, but, despite their limitations, focus groups can be invaluable for getting up close and personal to customers and prospects. They can identify product strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for your brand as well as your competitor's brand.  They can also expand existing on problem areas, as well as gain a handle on the “need-gap” that your product can solve better than other alternatives.
  4. Focus your efforts to segment and prioritize your brand's positioning strategy.  As the number of brands and the channels for customer contact increase, segmentation is more important than ever in helping marketers focus their efforts on current and future opportunities for growth.  No brand can be all things to all people, so it is critical for marketing executives to understand and segment customer groups to invest in the area(s) with the highest potential for growth.
  5.  Map the consumer decision journey and identify the key touch points that influence brand choices.  The traditional concept of a marketing funnel has evolved into a continuous evaluation of available options up to and even after the purchase decision has been made and completed.  The ready availability of customer reviews and peer input has blown the evaluation side of the funnel to smithereens.  Importantly, today’s consumer needs to be constantly reassured that they made a good decision, and the concept of brand loyalty has been almost totally discarded in many business categories.
  6. Keep a close watch on your competition . . .  and learn from them.  Keeping up with changes in competitive strategy and monitoring new category entries is more important than ever.  You can learn new benefits and strategic selling points, and sometimes you learn what you cannot do.  It is important to remember that competitive advantage often starts with simply outmaneuvering your competition.

Of course, these are just starting points for identifying and using insights to drive key business decisions. In the final analysis, the winners will be the creative marketers that are not afraid to explore new ideas and channels.  

Insights are still driven by identifying and evaluating options, and having the courage to look ahead, not behind.
 

DON’T MISS AMAPS SEPTEMBER LUNCHEON FEATURING DAVID YIN, SENIOR DIRECTOR OF BRAND STRATEGY AND RESEARCH FOR FITBIT.
 

David will share ways that Fitbit is using consumer insights to shape strategy and drive growth for the brand.  His talk will include insights on how to develop new skills sets using frameworks with senior decision makers to lead in a fast-growing tech firm.
 

Learn more about this at the important Marketing luncheon.
 

- Don Morgan

Don Morgan is Blog Editor and a past-president of PSAMA. He is Head Rainmaker at Raindance Consulting, a brand strategy and content marketing company. He can be reached at dmorgan@raindanceconsulting.com/