The importance of consumer insights

Editor’s note: Thor Olof Philogène is the founder and CEO of Stravito. 

In many ways, consumer insights are like diamonds. They come in a variety of different shapes and colors. They’re multifaceted and depending on which angle you look at them from, you might see something different. You have to dig and sift to get to them but there’s no doubting their value. They mean different things to different people, but they are meaningful and, in some instances, priceless. Despite this, many global organizations still struggle to quantify and define the value that they bring.

Through our Consumer Insights Podcast, I’ve had the chance to speak with insights leaders, from brand-side to agency-side, CX to strategy, qualitative methods to data science and beyond, sharing their views on their most valuable gems. In speaking with these experts, I’ve not only gained a fresh perspective on the value of insights, but also on how to turn insights into impact, stitching together the philosophies, skills, tools, opportunities and challenges that are on the minds of insights leaders today.

Creating a definition of insight

Despite spending most of our time thinking about insights, it can be challenging to pin down a definition when put on the spot. In fact, many of the leaders I’ve spoken with have started by outlining what an insight is not. While each leader had their own unique perspective, their answers were all grounded in the belief that an insight is not the same as data, a fact or an observation. Though it needs to be grounded in those elements, it was evident that true insight goes deeper than that. A theme that stood out to me was that the best insights adhere to three criteria: tension, intuition and action. 

Often beneath a neatly packaged statistic or finding, if you dig deeper, you’ll find the tension or pain points that are in the customer's mind. It’s at this level where you really start to understand how to improve consumer experiences. And as much as we’d like it to be, we all know that the data available to us is seldom perfect. That’s why it’s essential to be able to rely on a strong, informed sense of intuition to fill in the blanks when needed. Several of the leaders I spoke with explained how they blend the facts with their judgment around particular data points. At the end of the day, insights are only impactful if used to guide decision making, and business needs often can’t wait. 

This brings us to the last defining characteristic: action. All insights should be actionable, offering a clear answer to the question “What’s next?” for stakeholders, because this is the source of business impact. As one guest explained to me, “no action, no insight.” 

The skills needed to turn insights into influence 

For many insights teams, the goal is to drive a common consumer-centric vision throughout the organization. This is no easy feat and it requires a wide range of hard and soft skills on both the individual and team level.  

On the individual level, there were several skills and qualities that were seen as foundational, regardless of the specific industry or level of experience. These skills included curiosity, leadership, critical thinking and problem solving, communication and collaboration as well as agility.  

On the team level, several leaders expressed the importance of diversity, especially with regard to skills and personality. Everyone doesn’t need to have every skill but you should aim to have every skill on your team. Hiring both quant and qual backgrounds, introverts and extroverts, analytical minds and creative minds, paves the way for a strong, well-rounded team. 

The ability to build meaningful stakeholder relationships was also widely recognized as crucial. Having relationships with stakeholders that are built on a sense of mutual trust makes it easier to be confident and to positively challenge the organization when necessary. These relationships also help to better understand the needs of each business area, which is necessary for creating business impact. 

Cultivating courage to challenge the status quo

With unpredictable and potentially even volatile times on the horizon for 2023, successful organizations will be the ones that maintain an outside-in perspective and the ability to quickly adapt to rapid change.

Acting as the voice of the consumer means that you’ll inevitably have to challenge the organizational status quo from time to time. And doing so takes courage. It means fighting for a seat at the table early on in the process, when questions are asked and scopes are defined, as well as at the end when decisions are made. It also means being bold enough to ask the questions you think should be asked, rather than what you are being asked to ask.