How can you harness insight, a powerful tool for innovation?

Aude Darrou, Affiliate Professor of Marketing - September 14th, 2014
How can you harness insight, a powerful tool for innovation? by Aude Darrou

To ensure that your innovations are a success, involve the consumer from the start of the process! While many companies are committed to this principle, very few actually know how to make the most of it. Aude Darrou and Anne-Laure Frossard help businesses develop the right approach. 

Aude Darrou ©HECParis

An ESCP graduate, Aude Darrou is an affiliate professor at HEC Paris, and a consultant in innovation management. Together with Anne-Laure Frossard, a graduate of HEC Paris, she (...)

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Methods such as consumer insight, co-creation, and design thinking have proliferated in recent years as companies realize the value of incorporating the consumer into the heart of discussions around innovation – and the earlier in the process the better! This approach is linked to higher chances of success for new products and lower financing costs. 

The principle of insight

Of all the approaches currently revolutionizing the practice of marketing innovation, insight is arguably the most widely adopted by businesses. More than just a method, insight is a creative process that each company appropriates in its own way, refining it over time as various processes come to light. An insight marketing campaign can achieve maximum buy-in, consensus, credibility, universality, and sense of solidarity, because it is a revelation, an inspiring idea, which seems spontaneous and immediately rings true. Insight marketing campaigns communicate deep, hidden human truths that, at the same time, seem self-evident once they are put into words. Companies have found a simple and effective way to put this elusive yet promising approach into practice: focus on identifying the problems and needs that customers express. An insight marketing campaign responds to a gap that can be expressed as, “What I would like is…” 

Insight  as a response to a customer problem

All systems that are based on listening, from consumer research (including quantitative surveys) via social networks to customer service feedback, are suitable for identifying unresolved problems faced by consumers when using a product or service. For marketing teams, this means going beyond the strict scope of the market covered by the company and examining different ways of responding to customer needs. The benefit for consumers is that their problems are solved, with, for example, the washing powder that gets rid of stains without damaging their clothes or the cordless drill that the handyman can take everywhere. This problem-solving approach can sometimes even re-invent a particular use and create a new market. Such was the case with Pom’Pote, devised by Materne in response to the inconvenience, much lamented by parents, of getting young children to eat fruit while playing in the park. Even though there is no reason to discourage using the problem-solving approach, sooner or later it comes up against a very sharp natural limitation: the saturation of wants. When every company in a particular sector has explored the various problems encountered by consumers in detail, and developed appropriate solutions, it becomes acutely difficult to unearth new ideas. And the ideas that then do emerge are only relevant to a small portion of the target population. Some brands become worn out multiplying niche products as they respond to over-segmentation approaches where the economic balance is haphazard.

Insight is akin to consumer psychology

Insight as a response to underlying customer motivation

The area that is of real interest to Darrou and Frossard, therefore, is finding out what motivates consumers above and beyond a particular problem. The two professors and consultants are convinced that such an approach can be used to detect new opportunities that are meaningful to the customer and that contribute to a company's sustainable economic performance. In this respect, insight is akin to consumer psychology, as it consists of carrying out detailed work on understanding customers and customer motivation. This is exactly what L’Oréal, for example, did with the slogan “Because you're worth it” and the Dove (a Unilever brand) Real Beauty campaign. Motivation is the engine that drives consumers to go in one direction rather than another to fill their needs. Leveraging motivation, rather than sticking with the problem, is even stronger and more inspiring. For instance, a mother or father who decides what their children eat for afternoon break may be motivated by the wish to see them grow up to be healthy, or the desire to treat them to compensate for the long hours they spend apart at work. These two types of motivation will not lead the parent to choose the same type of product but each is an extremely powerful lever for a brand.

Identifying underlying consumer motivation

“The basic rule for identifying motivations is the famous ‘Why? Why? Why? ’ that is popular in the English-speaking world,” explains Darrou. The idea is to go in search of the “Why?” systematically and more deeply in each interaction with consumers. Motivation is connected to an individual’s psychology and system of values, and analyzing it is linked to different areas of the social sciences. In particular, it requires knowing how to go beyond one’s own frame of reference to open up to other cultures and other ways of thinking. When the French company Shiva explored the underlying motivations of its homecare customers, they found that they did not stop at doing the housework: consumers are motivated by the desire to make their home a cocoon and a safe haven to counteract the stress of a day spent at work and on the move. Hence the slogan, “You’re going to love coming home,” which also opens up opportunities for developing new services that fulfill this motivation.

Based on an interview with Aude Darrou.

Insight methodology
Insight methodology

Teams that practice insight on a daily basis often adopt a highly empirical approach. According to Aude Darrou and Anne-Laure Frossard, they are often frustrated by difficulties in successfully implementing measures, and often require clarification and help with methodology. As a result, the two consultants have developed tools to help marketing teams reconnect with their consumers and “immerse” them before converting and structuring the information received to obtain an insight. As Aude Darrou explains, “It is a process that is both structured and creative. It is not intuitive: you have to adopt a certain mindset and develop certain skills.” Insight is not just a fantastic tool for innovation; it is also very powerful for establishing brand positioning. If insight is framed properly, then customer benefit comes naturally. It is a process that is suitable both for B2B and B2C approaches.