We live in a world dominated by statistics, sound bites, images and short attention spans. Given this, it’s easy for brands to limit their attempts to understand consumers to a short meeting where they skim data, come up with a few recommendations and move on.

We want to encourage you to slow down on occasion and dedicate some time to gaining insights into customer needs. In our time-crunched business environment, there’s a lot to be said for taking a break and giving issues a more in-depth look (the TED Radio Hour recently did a great program on this topic; listen to it online or check out their podcast for more details). If your sales are slowing, or you feel you aren’t engaging with consumers at a meaningful level, it may be time to look for new insights that can help your company differentiate itself in the marketplace.

How can your brand gain insight into customer needs? First, take some time to understand what we mean by “insight.” Then study our tips to guide your staff toward getting a true understanding of what motivates and inspires customers.

Gaining insight into customer needs: What do we mean?

According to this article on Hubspot, gaining true insight means getting at the deep-seated emotions that drive consumer behavior. We all know that humans often make irrational decisions based on emotion. If you can tap into consumers’ emotions, you have a better chance of reaching them.

A true insight should be a truly new idea. It’s easy to get trapped in the corporate echo chamber and keep doing the same things over and over again. Gaining insight into consumer needs means breaking out of that echo chamber and coming up with something completely different.

Don’t expect a true insight to arrive overnight. While it may spring into your brain in an instant, it’s likely that insight will only arrive after contemplating a problem for a while (Adam Grant’s talk in the above-referenced TED presentation does a nice job of explaining why this happens). Give yourself time and don’t get frustrated if insights don’t come right away.

It’s important to understand that insight is different than data or ideas. A blog post on Insights in Marketing does a nice job of graphically laying out the differences between the two. The post also shows some examples of companies that have used insight to build a strong business model.

Gaining insight into customer needs: How do you do it?

Start with data

Data isn’t insight, but it’s a good stepping stone toward developing it. Before you start any marketing campaign, make sure you have a good mechanism for gathering data in place. If possible, collect qualitative data and not just quantitative. That will help you understand people thoughts, thought processes and emotions. (We should point out that experiential marketing is a great way to gather all of this information because it involves interacting with consumers on a very personal level.)

The Insights in Marketing post points out that if you have good data, you can look for patterns and trends. That can help you gather insight into cultural shifts or changes, or just get an idea of what your consumers value and identify with.

It’s also worth getting data from outside sources when available. You can get general industry data from a trade association, or data about general consumer trends from survey companies. If you’re utilizing data from an experiential marketing campaign, ask your brand ambassadors for feedback about the event. They may have interested insights into what consumers found most engaging and meaningful at your activations.

Set aside time

Taking a deep dive into consumers’ brains can’t happen in a one-hour marketing team meeting. Set aside time to really analyze the results of a major marketing push. You might even want to plan a retreat or other type of get-away.

To make your conversation more productive, make sure everyone who needs to be involved in your mission to attain insight can attend. Identify key players such as executive team members, but don’t just think about the usual suspects. Should someone from sales or production join in? Is there a consultant who specializes in helping companies gain insight into customer who can help? If you’ll be discussing the results of your experiential marketing campaign, should you include a few brand ambassadors?

Assign people homework ahead of your retreat or other session. Require them to set aside time in their schedules so the work actually gets done. Homework could include analyzing data for trends, viewing videos from your campaign, doing follow-up interviews with consumers or reading up on what others in your industry are doing well.

Ask yourself: Why?

Another thing you can do during that homework period is just spend some time pondering a vital question – why? Why do customers act the way they do? Why do they choose to buy (or not buy) your product? Why do they become loyal to your brand over others? What motivates them, frightens them, inspired them, makes them feel? Ruminating on this question will send you down the right road to gaining insight into consumers.

Make sure your insights are actionable

Great ideas are terrific – but if there’s no way to follow through on them, they won’t do you any good. When an insight finally bubbles up in your mind, make sure it’s actionable. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but over the long term.

Don’t wait to write down your insight or its associated actionable steps. Brainstorm a list of tasks, ideas and thoughts, and jot everything down. Once that’s done, feel free to let those ideas marinate for a few days or weeks. Chances are further ideas related to your insight will continue to come to you. Again, write them down as soon as you can. You don’t want any new insights related to that first one to go back to the deep parts of your brain where they first emerged. Do what you can to make sure they see the light of day – and bring consumers flocking to your brand.

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