Ten trends for ten years of insight

1. Is an insight really an insight?

Years ago insights were heralded as the new dawn of research. An insight was borne out of a series of connections made from data and interpretation.

Of late the CRM industry is now adopting the term. The term ‘insight’ is popping up across sales and CRM platforms.

We believe there is an inherent danger here. A data insight (what someone did) could be confused for a real customer insight (why they did it).

CRM practitioners may argue data can tell you ‘the why’ – yes it can but only based on assumptions you make on where to look in that data.

2. Data democracy

Data is everywhere. Online tools allow client access to respondent conversations and data from anywhere. Software analysis tools enable clients to build their own graphs and charts.

This has both pluses and minuses. It is great for clients to access the data and shape it as they wish.

But equally this places pressure on internal teams not to mention on the researcher to deliver real insight.

3. What was meant not what was said

We hypothesize that the availability of data everywhere is changing expectations of what data tells you.

It is very easy to be distracted by what was said vs. what is the underlying truth.

Therefore researchers have to work harder to seek out that unspoken truth and ensure it is communicated to client teams.

4. Good enough is good enough

Good enough is good enough is an overarching theme driving the whole industry.

From Google Translate, automated transcriptions to ‘quick and dirty’ projects, direction rather than deep nuances suffice nowadays.

5. Variety is the spice of insight

Insight projects have undoubtedly become more complex. From pre-tasks to extended data capture across product usage cycles, projects are more multi-layered.

Similarly multidisciplinary approaches are on the table with increasing frequency. Researchers often pull in complementary skill sets from Semiotics and Behavioural Economics to enrich project findings.

6. Ne’r the twain shall meet – or shall they?

Clients want to be more directly involved with the research process. Therefore they will sit in on focus groups or interviews no longer as the ‘colleague’ but as the ‘client’.

Customers have ‘come of age’ and enjoy the dialogue. Clients may even carry out interviews themselves as research budgets get cut.

This has implications for the role of the researcher. As a result the onus is more on facilitating this connection and managing the conversation. It is about ensuring it is fruitful but not staged.

7. Individual speak not focus group speak

The demise of the focus group marches on. Individual feedback is ‘pure’ and not tainted by group speak.

Respondent ‘groupies’ have long been the bane of the focus group. But my argument is you can find them anywhere regardless of research format!

It also boils down to cost. The expense of a viewing facility and associated directs are just untenable nowadays.

8. Remote reigns

Online tools mean the value of ‘being there’ is gradually being eroded. Much is being done online via platforms or even that old fashioned device the telephone!

However for me being there still carries weight. That’s because you can really sense the atmosphere in a room. That speaks volumes!

9. In the moment

In situ data and respondent actions are really valuable nowadays. Mobile and various data capture platforms help this. They enrich data enormously by making it real rather than reportage.

10. Smaller but faster

Project size is diminishing as commercial pressures become more acute. Furthermore budgets stretch across more cost centres. This exacerbates the trend.

Business decisions need to be fast and so insight has to be fleet of foot. The time for in depth analysis has shrunk dramatically. This favours agency teams with senior members who can cut to the chase very quickly.


From hero to zero in one fated CRM email

Money-off tools can create great brand value for any customer contact strategy. But they are only as good as the intelligence used to develop and implement them.

Take this example from a leading supermarket delivery company. Yes the money off voucher is for just 1p! Find out the backstory here and critically the customer consequences.

The value of the gesture

At first it was such a nice surprise! Each week I’d receive an email totally unprompted giving me some money off. The company checked the equivalent prices of my shop in other supermarkets to save me money.

Very customer focussed! There was even a certain added intrigue of how much money off I’d get each week.

Then I received my 1p voucher. Apart from being laughable it totally devalued their money saving initiative. Why bother sending me a voucher for such a paltry amount?

The dashing disappointment

My initial response was to disconnect emotionally from the gesture. It left me cold and dissatisfied, and quite frankly feeling unloved. Exactly the opposite of the intent behind the initiative.

However being involved in the business of customers and marketing, I then started to think more rationally about the concept…..and read the text below the bright and bold 1p. I hadn’t even got to reading that far beforehand.

The devil in the detail

So they had checked a comparable shop and I couldn’t save any money. In the absence of savings they felt obliged to offer me money off – a whole one penny.

They promised ‘a money-off voucher for more than the difference so I can use it to start on my next shop!’

Why the token gesture that had so little value for my next purchase?

The customer consequences

I have no doubt, however, that most people take the ‘disconnect route’ and think poorer of the brand despite the positive intent. Exactly the opposite of creating value!

So what does this teach us about creating value in a customer contact strategy?

1. In today’s fast track business world it’s easy to take ideas at face value. Customers want to save money. Fact. However we need to ask how. What are the meaningful parameters for saving?

2. There are different definitions of value. Financial value is the most obvious and straightforward.

Emotional value should be more highly prized, however. When a brand interacts with any customer an emotional contracts starts to form. One careless piece of communication like this one and the value chain starts to unravel.

3. It’s also an example of functionality being available but being used unwisely. Just because a system ‘can’, it doesn’t mean it has to be used at every opportunity. Think customers not functionality.


NPD evaluation with a customer forum – hints and tips for a more successful outcome

As a brand owner you may have an existing customer forum in place. Naturally this is a resource for feedback from customers that is flexible, quick and cheap to mine. So what is its value to the business for checking out new product ideas? Here’s five tough questions to ask if you are thinking of using a forum to do so.

1. Are you missing out on new audiences for the product?

Who is on the forum? Brand advocates? Social media engaged? What about people who are less engaged with the brand – the new product may be an opportunity to engage with them in a different and previously unimagined way.

2. Are community members the new groupies?

How long have they been members? Setting a time limit for participation contradicts the ethos of the community, particularly if it is self-formed,  yet if not there’s a real risk of wear out or becoming too close to the subject matter. Groupies were long the black sheep of focus groups but we need to guard against replicating this online. The same goes for frequency of ‘ask’ – how often does the community have to respond to questions you ask of them?

3. Are they all yaysayers?

In a community forum it is hard to tell the influence of the so-called majority effect. Are we mature enough yet as social media users to articulate contrary views in a social media space? It’s takes a lot more courage to do so rather than follow the herd. Without the natural prompts of body language it is impossible to see who is holding back. Yes non-responders can be invited to submit an answer but is it the real one?

4. What lies behind their response?

Classical research contextualises responses. With a context you can understand more the reasons behind a positive or negative evaluation of an idea. And importantly figure if a yes really does mean ‘yes I’d be interested’ or ‘yes but I’d never buy it because’….so make sure the community forum gives space to establish the individual context.

5. What do they really mean?

In the same vein keep asking yourself why participants say or write what they do. Again classical research typically teaches you to ask ‘why do they say that’ at least twice! In doing so you get to the real heart of the matter rather than taking responses at face value.

At best a community forum is valuable for establishing initial levels of interest in new product ideas, fine tuning propositions or sifting through ideas generated at an ideation session. But it should not replace a more formal research review if the product proposition is to be optimised for best ROI.

Have a question about your customer forum?  Get in touch for some new perspectives lindsey@freespiritconsulting.com


Why insight is becoming increasingly tough for client-side roles

The insight world appears to be in turmoil which may be leaving many researchers thinking they should pack their bags and go to live on a desert island. Here we look at five reasons why it’s not only challenging agencies but also client side.

1 – Access all areas

New platforms and software programs means data is available everywhere, throughout businesses and we hear on the grapevine that some client side researchers are feeling threatened by the notion of ubiquitous access to data. What this means is there is a greater emphasis on what is done with data.

In other words a greater onus on both interpretation as well as  producing visually arresting presentations to communicate the data to stakeholders. ‘Data artistry’ is how we like to imagine it – it’s about painting the ‘data picture’ which arrests the attention and then lacing it with hidden depths where you can reveal your interpretation.

2 – Supplier magicians

With an increasing number of data sources and new suppliers coming on stream it’s hard to keep up. The old agency behemoths are grinding to a halt and new kids on the block are knocking on your door with their shiny new methodologies. How can you trust them? What is in a brand name anymore? What’s the value of their methodologies?

There’s no silver bullet. Perhaps in a world of chaos we need to revert to the tried and trusted word of mouth. Or bite the bullet and refresh suppliers at regular intervals. The natural tendency is to batten down the hatches but sometimes sticking your head above the parapet pays dividends.

3 – I want it yesterday

The pace of business is not going to slow down. Our whole culture, even outside the commercial sphere is driven by immediacy. So how to persuade your colleagues that you can’t get the same quality of insight in half the time?

We are seeing more of a balancing act going on – what is time critical vs what is insight critical? Arguably you’d say both but it’s worth seeing if a difference can be teased out by project even if it’s marginal.

4 – Can’t pay won’t pay

Budgets are going down or being stretched across a number of data sources. It’s difficult both sides – asking suppliers to quote at a lower price vs. suppliers worrying about losing a project on price.

In fact for many public contracts the bid system still attributes part of the evaluation criteria to price. For suppliers there’s nothing worse than being excluded on price. We think it’s much more fruitful to have an honest conversation between both parties.

5 – Dress to impress

Faced with increasing data access it’s easy to reach for new methodologies that are going to impress stakeholders. But it’s worth double checking is there a real need?

Often all you need is the answer to your insight question – and in any case there’s often not a lot to choose between different agency approaches. In essence the fundamental need is quality thinking delivered with commercial acumen that inspires business confidence. How you get there is less relevant.

Perhaps it’s not quite time to depart for that desert island yet but the insight industry is certainly facing an increasing number of challenges.

What’s your biggest challenge right now? Get in touch for some fresh thinking lindsey@freespiritconsulting.com

What really is agile research and is it all it’s cooked up to be?

There is much said nowadays about research being ‘agile’. In fact, there was a great virtue made of it at the recent MRS conference in London. We ask ourselves in this paper if it really is the new or just the latest buzz word, what truly agile research should deliver and how it can be most valuable to today’s businesses. Read more

Intelligent use of VR, AR and 3D printing for customer insight

Intelligent use of VR, AR and 3D printing for customer insight

Virtual and augmented reality is everywhere. It is predicted in a few years every house will own a 3D printer. Both are fast becoming part of the consumer reality so does that mean they should join the research toolkit?

We have recently pitched for a project in China on a new electric vehicle. In this fast moving digital market VR is already playing a very real part in car dealerships, which sparked our curiosity – can it be used for concept and product development in the insight environment?

VR and AR storytelling vs. evaluation

It was big news at the Cannes film festival last year with a dedicated pavilion, Eric Darrell, Co Director of Madagascar deemed it to be a ‘brand new language’ and car makers are now using augmented reality to showcase new features. There is no doubt that this ‘unreal reality’ is adding a new dimension to story telling that organizations have previously been unable to deliver.

Indeed this is a key strength of virtual reality with some large corporations such as Unilever already using it to disseminate insight across the relevant teams and capture stakeholder imagination. It can also be used for Virtual Ethnography, exploring for example the customer view as they go about their daily shopping.

So how useful is it as a tool to test new ideas and products? The hardware is becoming very accessible meaning implementation is less of an issue nowadays. The question then becomes if it makes intellectual sense.

We think it certainly has a role but has to be used intelligently. It’s all down to the role of VR currently vs. in the research environment. The classic use of VR relies on the model of ‘show-experience-immerse.’ By contrast the insight approach follows a different dynamic of ‘show-experience-evaluate.’ A small difference but not without meaningful implications.

When immersion is the end goal, the contextual landscape is all the more important to provide a fully rounded story. In fact so rich is the landscape that it can prompt viewers to take different angles from the story. This lead Spielberg to claim that VR is ‘potentially dangerous’ as it allows viewers too much freedom to make their own choices rather than be presented with a single fixed narrative path.

With evaluation the need is a little different. Stimulus material has traditionally followed the less is more mantra.   It needs to do enough to communicate the essence of a product and idea i.e. its intended design but without biasing response. In short it is about stimulating not showcasing.

This means VR and AR in the insight context should be developed with a more objective and focused approach, with a careful brief to any developer. It is about striking the balance between providing sufficient ‘stimulus’ without over-stimulating response and treading on the gamification territory.

3D printers and new product perspectives

3D printers present a new reality for consumers that will be readily available in home within a few years. They are able to produce objects in a previously unimaginable timeframe and at the push of a button.

This has huge implications for research. 3D printers are able to deliver a new physicality to ideas that previously sat on stimulus boards. The printers can produce items in material that is identical or close to the intended product and in a similar shape if not size. And not to mention they bring new possibilities for design iterations between sessions from the design team and even consumers.

Again there is a note of caution here for their use in testing product ideas. The difference still has to be drawn between what is the intended design vs. research design particularly for completely new ideas. It makes little commercial sense for a business to invest many design hours into a new idea if its viability has not been tested with consumers. That said the design does need to be developed enough to give the idea a fair chance.

In short what we are looking at is a far more sophisticated type of stimulus material, which takes a step closer to reality rather than a physical iteration of the end product.

Lessons going forward

If we are to embrace the new technologies we would suggest five things to bear in mind:

  • These new technologies are part of the consumer reality where individuals are increasingly exposed to new ideas in ever more sophisticated ways and the world of insight needs to respect this
  • Equally there is a gap between the consumer reality and research reality for a reason – we are evaluating not selling ideas so the design of approaches using these technologies needs careful consideration
  • Understanding consumer motivations prior to exposure to these new technologies is crucial to be able to isolate true vs. hyped response particularly when they are still in their infancy
  • Ensuring the user experience of the technology is driven by natural interaction is key rather than the particulars of that technology – again these technologies are still relatively new although that will change
  • Considering how viable it is to implement the technology, as part of the insight timeline within the business, is of course critical.

It remains to be seen to what extent virtual and augmented reality will become part of the new ‘research reality’ but undoubtedly these new technologies offer the potential for a more immersive and engaging insight experience.