Extracting customer insights can be a time-consuming and challenging process. It requires a lot of effort to articulate them effectively. The insights must be persuasive without being preachy, authentic without being too obvious, and empathetic without being presumptuous.

Even experienced marketers can fall into traps when trying to create insightful statements. A common oversight is mistaking a reverse benefit ("Wouldn't it be nice if...") for an insight. To craft a convincable and measurable insight, we need to remove any disguised benefits. If a statement includes "I want" or "I need," we should step back and investigate the underlying reason behind that desire. We should ask ourselves "because" or "so what?" to find true customer insight.

Definition of Customer Insight

Exploring customer insights is akin to peeling away the layers of an onion. By delving deeper into the drivers, motivations, actions, symbols, heroes, and values of customers, qualitative research methodologies such as focus groups, in-depth interviews, and observation studies help in comprehending what a particular product, service, or brand truly signifies to them.

On the contrary, standard or quantitative market research only provides a surface-level understanding of the consumer's current situation, such as their usage patterns and demographics.

Customer insight consists of the 3W’s:

1. What is the customer doing?

2. Why are they doing it?

3. Wow - nobody has ever noticed or talked about that problem before!

Customer Insight Example: Heineken

Heineken conducted research and discovered that women, in general, tend not to consume beer on a night out and find the quality of wine too inconsistent. Using this insight, Heineken developed a new concept for women, introducing Jillz, a sparkling cider drink that serves as an alcoholic alternative. 

friends drinking beer

What is Good Customer Insight?

Powerful and really good insight contains the following 3 key characteristics:

1. Targeted

Someone needs to feel addressed and involved! When looking for insights, it’s vital to focus your activity and narrow your research to a specific target and key gaps in your knowledge.

2. True problem

At the heart of every insight needs to be a true dilemma as without a problem, no one needs your solution.

3. Fresh

As an insight can be true but generic and non-competitive – make sure it’s a new problem or an existing problem described in a new way.

Customer Insight Example: Persil

During my time at Unilever, I participated in a study that observed mothers and their attitudes toward their children getting dirty. The study revealed that mothers had a positive association between kids and dirt. They viewed getting dirty as a learning experience and felt proud of their children. This insight was so impactful that it led to the transformation of Persil into a more emotional and consumer-friendly brand. As a result, the brand experienced double-digit growth for several years.

children splashing water

How Customer Insight Impacts Innovation?

Consumer Insight is most effective in the discovery phase of shaping your business strategy and guiding your idea creation. It is used for product, service, and brand development by taking your most valuable customer insights and transforming them into strategic innovation areas.

Customer Insight Example: Seedless sweet pepper

During my time at Syngenta, a fascinating customer insight was uncovered during an innovation meeting with the Sweet Pepper team back in 2007. We discovered that a significant number of consumers were avoiding eating sweet peppers raw due to issues with digestion, burping, and heavy stomach discomfort. This came as a surprise to many of us, as we had initially believed that the size and shape of the sweet pepper were the likely culprits.

After delving deeper into this observation, we found that individuals perceived the flavor of regular red peppers as too robust and desired a lighter option for snacking or incorporating into salads. Additionally, the shape, size, and presence of seeds required further improvement. This led to the creation of the seedless and sweet pepper named "Angello," which received the Innovation Award at Fruit Logistica in 2012 and is now available in numerous supermarkets throughout Europe.

Customer insight also works very well in the other stages as:

  • Feasibility
    Aiming to understand customers' expectations for a particular concept, such as sensory exploration. In our previous studies at Syngenta, we discovered that for a tomato concept focused on health benefits, consumers expect a taste that is not overly sweet. We found that acidic and herb flavors are more strongly associated with a healthy product than sweetness.
  • Go-to-market
    When developing a product positioning, gathering insights from customers can reveal the expectations of the target consumer segment for the launch of the product or service.

Why are Customer Insights Important?

Organizations that understand their customers are better positioned to meet their needs, resulting in increased customer satisfaction and lower costs associated with meeting those needs.

Customer Insight Example: Unilever

An excellent example of this is Unilever, which conducted a global survey of 3,200 women in 2003. The results revealed that only 2% of the women surveyed considered themselves beautiful, and 76% wanted to change the idea of beauty. Unilever conducted further research to gain a deeper understanding of how women wanted to change the concept of beauty. These insights fueled a successful Dove brand repositioning campaign, which included products and services that have been successful worldwide for many years.

In today's world, it's crucial to maintain close communication with customers, whether in a B2B or B2C environment. After all, we all want to feel heard, understood, and taken care of.

customer at the cash desk

How to Gain Customer Insights?

1. Start with your customers’ “jobs to be done"

According to Clayton Christensen, it's important to focus on the job that your customers want to accomplish. For example, instead of just selling a drill, you should think about the end goal of creating a hole in the wall or hanging a ladder to capture family memories.

By understanding your customers' needs and goals, you can develop innovative solutions that will make sense and provide real value. So, start by gaining key insights into your customers' "jobs to be done" and then work on creating solutions that match their needs.

2. See, Feel, Think, Do

The concept of "See, Feel, Think, Do" suggests that observing how actual individuals behave in their everyday routines, in real-life circumstances, and in real-time enables us to generate solutions that truly address their requirements.

Observing is often more effective than asking questions, which is why ethnography is becoming a popular market research methodology, even in B2B environments.

3. Make customers your friends

The traditional methods of gaining insights through ad-hoc research, such as focus groups and surveys, are no longer effective. The new approach is to establish an ongoing dialogue with your customers.

Develop a friendly relationship with your customers by engaging them in co-creation and inviting them to participate in your open innovation platform.

It is important to approach the situation with empathy rather than solely relying on logic. Collaborate as much as possible with them to achieve mutual success.

4. Approach the right customer in the right stage at the right time

Imagine you have a new product idea and you want to know if it will be useful for people's job needs. Additionally, you want to determine what will be successful, what won't be, and what other features are necessary for a successful launch. But can any customer provide this feedback? As it turns out, you need to focus on emergent customers.

Studies indicate that emergent customers are skilled in identifying and enhancing concepts that have greater appeal to the market. They possess a distinct ability to envision how these concepts can be further developed to succeed in the mainstream marketplace.

Sounds pretty valuable, right? What are these traits that define a customer’s emergent nature?

  • Openness to new experiences and ideas
  • Reflective nature
  • Experimental and rational processing style
  • Ability to process information both verbally and visually
  • High level of creativity
  • Optimism

Final Thoughts 

In conclusion, the process of extracting customer insights is challenging yet important for business success. We've explored what customer insights are, their impact on innovation, and their importance today. Examples from Heineken, Persil, and Syngenta illustrate how insights drive innovation. To gain these insights, we should embrace collaboration and maintain ongoing, empathetic customer relationships. Focusing on emergent customers, those who envision successful concepts, is key. In today's customer-centric world, understanding and satisfying customer needs remain fundamental for lasting success

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