Brand Research Insights: How to get them and how to use them

Brand research is a staple element of any marketer’s toolkit. This research is the starting point for building insights that are used to develop a strategy or a plan. But many of these terms are pretty generic these days and people (even experts) tend to use them without careful attention to their actual meaning and nuances. In fact, “insights” is such an overused term these days that it has clearly usurped the often more applicable term, “observation”, in use and meaning.

Brand research insights are not a given outcome or endpoint. They are not easily accessible and in most instances are not provided in research reports. Research provides observations. Most market research provides a record of behaviour rather than an explanation for observed behaviour – although some qualitative brand research techniques do provide deeper answers and insights.

Often a research dataset will provide countless data points. These are observations or findings. To link these findings in such a way to create new questions and generate new answers is the process of arriving at the elusive insight. Many researchers and advertising people will say “we have an insight” but in truth they are often describing an observation. They might say … “we know that more people engage with our posts in the evenings” or “the value of the average shopping basket is R550”. These acolytes sound intelligent but they are merely repeating what is already known.

Insight generation is a process of connecting disparate datapoints and unlocking new questions that in turn, with effort and digging, may generate an elusive insight. This process is time-consuming, often self-defeating, and relies on a deep sense of curiosity. It also relies on an ability to spot something new in an otherwise mundane occurrence. Mankind waited centuries for Newton to figure out that there was something bigger happening when the apple fell on his head.

An insight can also arrive as a eureka moment but in truth it is mostly the result of hard work and relentless data scrutiny and tinkering.

The essence of an insight is that it answers the “why?” rather than the “how?” or “what?”

Upon unlocking a new insight it is often relatively easy to move to the action stage which is the point at which recommendations are made. Recommendations could involve anything from creative direction, media or strategy.

The different steps are described as:

Finding – Something that is apparent from the data

Insight – A conclusion drawn from a finding or a combination of findings and observations

Recommendation – An action taken/to be taken from the insight

Here’s an example of the process as it unfolds in real life.

A large B2C retailer was looking at transaction amounts. They expected to see a normal distribution such as this with the number of transactions peaking at a value to create a typical bell-curve.

But when the actual data was interrogated this was observed:

The ‘hmm’ needed investigation.

It turned out that these transactions weren’t made by their typical shopper — young moms shopping for their kids. They were made by people who would travel from abroad once a year, walk into a store, buy lots of items, take them back to their country and sell them in their own stores. They were resellers who had no special relationship with our retailer.

This modest “discovery” set off a chain reaction of interesting questions on what sorts of products these resellers were buying, what promotional campaigns may be best suited for them, and even how this data can be used to inform multi-national expansion plans.

Insights are hard to get. If everyone had great insights great advertising would be prolific. But in most instances, there are probably not many new things to learn about most brands and how they perform. This is when the emphasis shifts from brand performance to emotional reaction and to value alignment.

For instance, we know how the average washing powder works. There is not much new to say about what it does. But we might find something new about the emotions it unlocks in loyal users, and better still we may discoverer a link to a deep set of cultural value norms such as trust, honesty, dedication, etc. These are the insights that can then inform a new distinctive and engaging communication campaign.

Make no mistake, while it’s easy to spell out the process it’s very tricky to generate valid insights. Insights can emerge at any point and are frequently ignored if a receptive and imaginative person is not attuned to these triggers. And this is why research data remains a good starting point because diligence and persistence can suffice for creative genius in unlocking a break-through insight.

And finally, in closing, be aware of those recounting mere facts and findings as insightful “discoveries”. More work may still lie ahead.

If you need help obtaining and knowing how to use brand insights, email or call 011 327 6871

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