Holy Grail or Pandora’s Box?

By Neil Gains, Tapestry Works

There is a lot of misunderstanding and confusion about insight, not least from the market research industry itself.  Clients continue to demand more, and agencies continue to deliver poorly, according to the latest Asia Research client survey. Stan Sthanunathan, in the latest edition of Admap (“Don’t explain the past, predict the future”) puts this down to an industry which looks backwards rather than forwards, and argues that insight is the wrong quest for the knights of research.  He and his colleagues at Coca-Cola want inspiration! Perhaps we should turn to the myth of Prometheus instead of the legend of the Holy Grail.   Prometheus continues to be a symbol for the creative “fire of ideas” nearly three millennia after he first appeared in Greek literature.  In the original myth, Prometheus stole fire from the gods to give to mankind, and bring them progress.  For this act of empathy, he was punished by being chained to a rock, and Pandora was brought to life from clay to plague mankind. Prometheus’ name means “foresight”.  Forward looking is critical for insight, inspiration, and any individual or business focusing on consumer or market “intelligence”. There is an ongoing debate at research-live.com as to whether insight has a future.  Much of this controversy is caused by the different meanings that are often attached to the word. I would like to propose a common definition of insight, which reflects the needs of clients, and also those of agencies if they are to continue to thrive.  The objective of insight should always be to move businesses forward.  In order to do this, businesses need to change human behaviour (both of their staff and customers).  So here is a five-point insight checklist. 1)    An insight is NEW, and represents a discovery of something previously unknown or unrecognized.  Frequently insight is based on existing knowledge or something ordinary, looked at from a fresh perspective.  Data looks different every time we place it in a new context. 2)    An insight has EMOTIONAL content, and resonates with people.  It is based on a real consumer truth, which can help business connect with their customers. 3)    An insight CONNECTS the dots, reflecting multiple data sources or points of view.  Insight professionals must look beyond the immediate data to integrate all their understanding a business issue to solve a client problem.  And yes, that does mean that sometimes we have to reject our and our client’s hypotheses for more compelling evidence.  Even intuition and gut feel will sometimes play a role (I know that’s difficult for us to accept). 4)    An insight must look to the FUTURE, containing predictive power and the ability to look beyond the past to help a client see future possibilities. 5)    An insight always has VALUE, and should reflect the successful real-life application of knowledge.  Insight is worthless (and should not be called insight) if it cannot create value for businesses. To summarise, I believe insight will continue to be the currency of our industry, providing we follow a meaningful definition.  My definition would be that insight is a new emotional connection that creates future value. Market research must seize the fire!