Unlocking human insight in a data-driven world

It’s often said that “insight” is one of the most used and abused words in marketing.

In a world where customer-centricity is everyone’s goal, it seems like someone’s offering up “insight” wherever you turn. On one extreme, you have a long tail of martech and ad tech providers labeling every correlation and data point as “insight”. On the other, you have practitioners doggedly pursuing the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and accepting nothing less as “insight”. And in the middle, analysis paralysis – so much data you don’t know where to start. So how should we think about this beleaguered concept?

In a data-driven world, human insight is more important than ever - if “data is the new oil” of the digital economy, human insight is its most valuable product. Human insight not only illuminates the customer journey and experience, it provides the deeper understanding – the “why” – that allows us to imagine and create ways to improve it. As Jeff Bezos said in his 2017 letter to shareholders, “Customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great. Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better.”

Insight is different from data. Data will tell you that your customer satisfaction is high – human insight can lead you to satisfy customers in ways they can’t yet imagine. (“Alexa, order me a flat white.”) In its simplest definition, insight is that moment of uncovering new meaning to create new value – it’s a new way of seeing a truth that can be leveraged to create new value for customers and the organization.

But extracting and refining quality, actionable insight from constantly flowing and rapidly increasing wells of accessible data isn’t easy. Organizations getting it right these days tend to embrace a few key mindsets and behaviors:

  • Freeing the data – Rather than holding data within the purview of specialists, they push an intelligently curated stream of big and small data outward to irrigate all aspects of the organization, and empower their people to use it to make in-the-moment decisions. Diageo has recently launched a new tool called Catalyst that puts instant data and analysis to inform budgeting and spending decisions directly in the hands of 1200 marketers across 55 countries.

  • Marrying the power of machines to the humanity of humans - Machine learning and advanced analytics are super-powering organizations’ abilities to manipulate and interpret mass amounts of data with precision, efficiency and speed at scale. Insightful organizations are investing in those capabilities, while simultaneously emphasizing and developing the human capabilities of inquisitiveness, empathy, creativity, and intuition within their teams -- they know that the most powerful insight comes from marrying these unique strengths together. The well-known British Airways "Visit Mum" campaign married an analysis of 1400 air routes, booking, loyalty, search, and social intent data with deep ethnographic understanding of Indian expats to solve a business challenge and increase ticket sales to India on ba.com by 65%.
  • Treating data collection as part of the customer experience – As customers’ expectations of frictionless, personalized customer experiences have risen, so too have their demands for thorough protection of their privacy and data. The EU General Data Protection Regulation has now codified these demands into law. Innovative companies now seek innovative solutions to collecting and using customer data. SkyTeam created a SkyPriority Panel App to enlist their most valuable customers in collaborative collection of experience and satisfaction data. Verizon has recently launched a rewards program called Up that offers a fairly straightforward offer of exchange of personal data for rewards like concert tickets and phone discounts.

As the tools and opportunities to unlock insight from data continue to evolve and change, successful organizations are showing willingness to experiment with new and untried solutions and slaughter sacred cows when necessary. What’s consistent is a continued embrace of insight as the core driver of innovative and compelling customer experiences, a belief that insightfulness is part of everyone’s job, and the ability to discern “true insights”, as Samsung's Michelle Froah describes them, from data.

At Brand Learning, we work closely with our clients to clearly identify and understand the real work challenges and skill gaps in insight evolution, and develop capability plans to close them. Please contact us for more information.


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