Everyone talks about needing customer insights, but how many can really define the concept? How many can find or recognize an insight? How many marketing communicators and researchers can tell a better insight from a lesser one?
There are many sources one might consult. Google search returns 747,000 items for "consumer insight" and 589,000 for the more recently popular term "customer insight."
Google Ngram search gives a bit of historical perspective on the usage of these terms. Ngram lets us find the frequencies of words or short phrases in the English language books since 1800 that have been scanned by Google Books.
Searching for the broad topic "consumer research" gives us a view of the ascent of the modern marketing era. The inset graph expands to view to show the consumer insight came into use in the 1970s with customer insight following a similar pattern a decade later.
Throughout these sources, it seems these two terms are often used casually, with the assumption everyone knows what the term means.
With extensive professional experience in marketing communication and in leading consumer and advertising research roles, I offer this precise definition of the term customer insight.
A customer insight is a factual observation about customer thoughts, feelings or actions that reveals a clear and material basis for communication.
Better customer insights are more factual, clear and material. Materiality is key, it means the insight has an important connection to decision-making by consumers. A material insight therefore provides a basis for effective communication with consumers. If a potential insight cannot be supported by a well articulated pattern of facts, it is not a material-level customer insight, rather it is merely a convenient supposition.
Indeed, you can help yourself avoid expensive mistakes by evaluating possible customer insights in with my typology that I have named the Customer Insight Success Grid.
The Customer Insight Success Grid calls attention to two essential criteria for success: The extent of the array of factual information sources in support of the insight, and the importance of the insight to the development of effective communication.
Too often supposed insights pop up out of nowhere with vague factual support. While individual expert insight and qualitative methods can surface speculative insights, truth follows from a triangulation process drawing upon a range of qualitative and quantitative resources. A supposed customer insight is only speculative observation (blue sky thinking) unless there is an array of appropriate supporting sources.
Customer insights become productive when there is both an array of supporting sources and the insight points to a perspective on the role of the life of the customer that is material to more effective communication.
So, when thinking about customer insights, remember my definition of customer insight and my Customer Insight Success Grid. A potential insight may be located anywhere on the grid. You want to seek those most productive insights on the high ground of the upper right quadrant.