5 Principles of Effective INsight Definition

THRIVE is a product development and innovation strategy firm based in Atlanta that serves as an IDSA Ambassador. In his second installment for IDSA INsights, THRIVE Co-Founder and CEO Jonathan Dalton, IDSA, takes a closer look at effective insight definition:

As customer experiences take center stage, so does the need for more profound and compelling insight definition. Insights form the cornerstone of the design and innovation process and serve as a lighthouse for what to do next and as a catalyst for creating new value for customers. Insight has become a horribly misused word—much in the same vein as brand, strategy and innovation have become misused words. So let us first get "definitional" and restore some meaning to the word by considering what insight is NOT:

  • Insight is NOT data. Data can take many forms, but we have to remember it is just that—data! Alone, it is not an insight, and it does not do your thinking for you. How do we mine and analyze the data to reveal insight on which we can act. Look at your data holistically and be cautioned against becoming attached to that singular inspiring data point that can drive a swift conclusion. Think holistically. Analyze intensely.
  • An observation is NOT an insight. Observations are an incredibly important part of creating insight but are still only one data point to consider and should never stand alone. They are facts that lack the “why” and the “motivation” behind consumer behavior. Never stop short of the hard work involved during the process of insight definition of converting an astute observation in to something more meaningful and actionable. Always get to the “why.”
  • A customer wish or statement of need is NOT an insight. An insight is not an articulated statement of need. Insights are less apparent, intangible, latent—a hidden truth that is the result of obsessive digging. Anytime you hear “I want” or “I need” in a statement—step back and pause—as you probably need to dig deeper and understand the motivation, and the why behind the “want.” Obsess about the outcome people want. Don’t merely record their statements of need and assume you have insights.

Defining Insight
A definition is helpful but knowing what value your insight should deliver is far more important and makes them actionable, building momentum for change. At THRIVE, we look at the insights we craft to deliver the following as a working definition:

• An unrecognized fundamental human truth.
• A new way of viewing the world that causes us to reexamine existing conventions and challenge the status quo.
• A penetrating observation about human behavior that results in seeing consumers from a fresh perspective.
• A discovery about the underlying motivations that drive people’s actions.

Turning Knowledge into Insight
Casual observation and simply having knowledge is not enough. Insights take work; they are a skill requiring creativity and persistence and deep thinking to craft. The most powerful insights come from rigor and serious analysis to translate large amounts of data in concise and compelling findings. Use written insight statements guided by five key principles to turn research data into actionable insight to inspire new ideas for product and service development.

Five Principles for Effective Insight Definition Compelling insight statements should be structured around five key principles:
1. Set the Context In your insight statement. Clearly explain the background with a simple observation of how people behave in a given situation; what they think; what they feel—but most importantly, explain what they are doing and trying to achieve.

2. Communicate the Dilemma A critical part of insight definition is understanding the barriers that are stopping consumers from achieving what they want with a given product, service or experience. Dilemmas occur around the territories of values, behaviors, needs and desires. Look for strong emotions as they happen, when a consumer has a conflict, tension or discomfort.

3. Articulate the Why An insight statement is a discovery of understanding and needs to explain why something is happening the way it is. It should be a concise synthesis of the observed behavior—a look at the activity and what is driving it. You must know the reason a consumer is behaving in a particular way, and why it is happening if you are to develop a product or service that can in some way augment or change the behavior.

4. Capture the Motivation Discovering the underlying motivations that drive people’s actions is fundamental to insight definition. End-users of a product or service are motivated to change by the tensions that exist in their lives. These manifest themselves as unfulfilled needs they need to fulfill to make a given tension disappear. Look for tensions in four key areas: the physiological, the emotional, the cognitive and the environmental to inform your insight statements.

5. Envision the Ideal It is important to describe the desired end-state or situation the consumer is seeking. The key here is not to define a solution but clearly convey how the consumer would like the world to look and feel—what the ideal experience should be. An excellent way to articulate this is to start with the statement “I wish there was,” and envision the ideal situation for the consumer from this perspective.

Language Matters
You can go through the mechanics of detailed analysis and know you have a great insight that can reframe a category, and give you an insurmountable competitive advantage. However, if you do not make it inspirational, then all your good work will fall by the wayside. Think of insight definition as a three-sentence journey;

  1. Describe the current situation and the incumbent consumer behavior: “Having pictures around that instantly remind me of special moments and people, makes me feel good.”
  1. Describe the dilemma the consumer has and clearly articulate why this is a frustration in their life: “But I find that pictures from my digital camera often stay hidden on my devices because I never have time to print them.”
     
  2. Describe the consumers desired end-state, their ideal situation: “I wish there was a way to enjoy them everyday without having to actively play them on my TV or computer."

Always write in the first person from the consumers’ perspective to help you connect with them on a deeper emotional level. Be real, be human, and avoid jargon—remember it is not a sales pitch. Be objective and honest. This is especially important if you plan on validating your insights with consumers either quantitatively or qualitatively at a later date. “Having pictures around that instantly remind me of the special moments and people in my life make me feel good. But I find that pictures from my digital camera often stay hidden on my devices because I never have time to print them. I wish there was a way to enjoy them everyday without having to actively play them on my TV or computer.”

You know your insight is powerful when it:

  • Connects with consumers on an emotional level and elicits the reaction “you obviously understand me.”
  • Reexamines existing conventions and challenges the status quo.
  • Solves a real problem that results in the creation of new customers.
  • Inspires action by giving you a clear target to aim for.
  • Is a clear statement of what do next and how to deliver value to your customers.

End with Ideas Not Insights
It is easy to get myopic when mining data, synthesizing the findings and crafting insight statements. So don't forget about the big picture. It is good to remember that insights are only the beginning, not the end, and form part of a far more significant process. Use your insights as the fuel for ideation but rephrase them to be actionable for the creative process rephrasing them, as "How might we?" statements. "How might we enjoy our memories every day without having to take the time to actively play them on devices?"

Insights are terribly difficult to find but critical to unlocking organic growth. They reduce irrelevance and provide focus on what is meaningful—setting the foundation for successful product and service development. Think of the insight statement as the question; the idea as the answer; and the resulting product or service as the solution. Reduce the data. Increase your insight. Be a smarter business!