The importance of obtaining genuine insight and why defining the problem is key to success

“If you think marketing is expensive, consider the effects of invisibility on your business” 

This is probably the hardest won lesson that many of us fail on. Not because owners and managers of small businesses don’t care about their customers, far from it. In fact, it’s more because they are so passionate and committed to their businesses and their product or service. 

As owners we have invested years of our lives into our products, it’s our “baby” and so we love talking about it, and can mistakenly expect our customers to be equally passionate, knowledgeable or interested in the minutiae of what we do and how we do it.  But this passion can misdirect us. In truth your would-be customers often simply do not care (yet) and it is best to work on that assumption. It is down to us to connect the dots between what we do offer and “the problem” the customer has, and then to clearly articulate the reasons for them to care.

It’s natural to sometimes feel that we know our customers “well enough”, because after all we built our product or service for them in the first place. However, you should never assume that you have a perfect working understanding of your customers simply because their needs are constantly evolving. If you don’t maintain an insatiable curiosity about your customers and what is affecting them then you are potentially leaving yourself open to surrendering competitive advantage to someone else.

Maybe your customers already know that they have a problem, but often they don’t so it is important that you have absolute clarity on what the problem (or problems) are that you are solving on their behalf. You also have to be crystal clear in articulating why you are better at solving that problem than anyone else. Identifying the true customer problem is the starting point from which all marketing activity stems and for this you need genuine insight. 

How to Find New Winning Insights: (not generic observations) 

The first crucial step is to unearth genuine insights into your customers’ lives and their needs. People often mistake generic observations and reporting the status quo of how things work as insight, it is not. If you are simply describing what’s going on then anyone can do it. You are searching for true “aha” moments, moments when things suddenly become obvious, or click and drop into place. 

By the term insight, we are basically describing your capacity to gain an accurate and deep understanding of someone or something. These insights can be found in a wide variety of places and you can identify them yourself with the investment of a little time and some carefully targeted exploration and observation. You don’t need to immediately jump to the conclusion that you need specialist research, but sometimes this can be helpful though you have to be clear on the brief of what you are looking for. 

Four Key Sources of Insight:

Insights generally come from four main sources that you can explore. An insight is something that is clear and simple and can be captured in one short sentence.

1. Customer Insights: The first question we need to ask ourselves is – Do we have clarity on the target consumer and what matters to them?  We are looking to identify simple human truths or needs that can help us frame an issue or problem. These can be things like, “everything’s so complex, I want simplicity and simple solutions in my category” or “I feel like I lack control and am feeling disempowered so I can’t make meaningful change”. They could be simple truths like I know I should eat more fish but don’t know how to cook it or what to cook it with.” Ask yourself the following questions:

What is the customer’s current situation and accepted belief(s)?

What is the unmet need or tension the client is experiencing today?

What do they want to be able to think, feel or do differently? 

 Is a superior benefit clearly articulated?   

Then capture the insight in one sentence: (Situation, Tension and Aspiration).

2. Business Insights and Brand Insights: look at your business and the way people feel about you versus how they feel about your competitors. Take your consumers journey – what do they see and feel when they interact with you? What is the experience like when they interact with your competitors? Question everything and never be afraid to ask child-like questions like “why do things have to be done that way?” It is amazing how often reappraising how things have always been done can lead to news opportunities. 

Describe how your business/brand relates to the opportunity as you see it.

3. Market Insights and Category Insights: Explore what is happening in the world you live in.  Look at your market sector or business category in forensic detail. Many business sectors are characterised by a sea of sameness, with everyone doing, saying and behaving in a similar way so that everyone conforms to common norms – doing things in the same way, speaking the same language and adopting the same practices and even codes of dress. This means you often get tribal behaviours with lawyers, accountants, and engineers all happily living in their little bubbles and thus business propositions then blur.  Whatever your industry this is likely to be the case. This ‘blurring’ makes it very difficult for potential customers to differentiate between businesses and make an informed choice.

Look at what practices and behaviours are common in your sector? Is anyone doing anything different? If so what and why? 

What can you do differently or better to make you stand out? 

4. Trends, Cultural or Wider World Insights 

It is really important to look outside of your world and avoid the tunnel vision that many business sectors fall into. Observations from another market sector can often lead to insights that can be revolutionary when applied in another sector. 

It is also important to be aware of the major global and cultural trends that influence us as people today as these often provide insights into future innovation opportunities or influences on your customers that you need to adapt to. 

For example:

People are Living Longer – There are more people living past the age of 65 than ever before. But older age can be blighted with illness and infirmity. Fear of ill health becomes acute in over 50s, according to studies. The consequences of this are we are embracing health and wellness – consumers want to forge tribes of like-minded individuals. Successful brands are nurturing a collective spirit and offering 360-degree concepts that promote mental and emotional wellbeing, alongside physical health.

Distrust of the establishment – People no longer unequivocally trust medical practitioners. You often have to wait so long that you turn to Dr Google.  Self-diagnosis is not uncommon – and people are often likely to trust the views of friends and people they connect with on forums. So the role of the professional service sector is constantly being reappraised. 

People are time-poor and living “always-on“ lives and the consequence of this is that we have crammed and compressed days, are sleep-deprived and ruled by interaction with devices, phones, laptops, cars etc. All of which impacts our physiological and physical health.

We are looking for digital communities – Social sharing, supportive help, or political protest, 21st customers are seeking connections, and the digital world doesn’t scare them, it’s second nature to more and more of us as we’re born into it.

We are experience seekers – 78% of 21st-century consumers would choose to spend money on a desirable experience or event over buying a product. This includes travel, music festivals and learning experiences.

Insights inform your future strategy and execution and enable you to talk about the client problem you solve. 

Be seen as an indispensable problem solver

Leading businesses are driven by their desire to be useful, to create products, tools and services that actually solve customer problems, and to use their insight to serve and not just sell. Those businesses that focus principally on positively solving customer problems to drive their businesses have a five-year growth rate of 14.3 percent per annum, compared to 2.3 percent for those that largely rely on basic storytelling to shape their brands

It’s not enough just to mention the problem, sometimes we need to actively sell the problem in order to then talk about how we can solve it.  Finally, it’s no good talking about the problem in our terms or our words. It will only engage a prospect if we talk in their language, in their terms and from their perspective. Solve the problem as it appears on their ‘to do’ list and you won’t go far wrong.