Interview | Understanding the Why: The Necessity of Insights

Interview | Understanding the Why: The Necessity of Insights

Read time: 5 minutes

First off, how do you define insight?

I define insight as understanding the deeper dynamics of what is going on: why it’s happening and how it’s happening. Insight means getting at more of the story, understanding especially why exceptions happen. Insight goes deeper than just telling you there are differences in a specific topic; it helps you understand why there are differences.

What would you say is the difference between information and insight?

To the extent that it is measurable, information tells you what is happening. A challenge with information is that it often reflects averages or is insufficiently granular to be useful. But whether accessed through qualitative or quantitative methodologies, insight can help you understand more of the granularity that’s happening under the information. It helps you understand what and why something is happening.

Insight helps you make better predictions of what might happen in the future and make better decisions. Those predictions could be around how certain trend lines are going to move into the future, or why certain segments will continue or be different. They could be around how the needs of different segments could evolve. In short, insight tells you why; information tells you what.

Can you tell me the difference between what an insight for you as a CMO might be vs. an insight for your director of lead generation, for example?

At the lead generation level, you’re looking for tactical insight: why did this program create these results? Was it because of the content? The timing? Were there underlying segments that I didn’t consider? From a junior level, insight into these things allows you to iterate and improve, but ideally also to think about ways you can set up what you’re doing to gather more granular information so you can gather insight along the way. At the lead generator level, you want to understand the factors driving things so you can manage those factors and be more successful in the future.

A CMO may look at specific programs but usually looks at more broad insights: how is our value proposition resonating? How is it doing relative to the competition? Are there different segments we have not considered where variations of our value proposition are important? Are there underlying threats that could be happening in terms of changes in technology, demographics, and taste that could be causing us to be vulnerable?

If it’s granular enough, data and information can give you hints toward answering these questions, but you also need to get out there and talk. One of the things that I valued as a CMO was the time I spent out in the field learning from customers and employers who were buying health insurance from us, meeting Medicare seniors, hearing their issues, and learning what goes into their decision processes. As the CMO, you need to be the voice of the customer at the leadership table, so you have to listen to these voices and understand what they’re saying.

Did you conduct voice of customer (VOC) research? If so, how was it important in your insight-gathering process?

We absolutely conducted VOC research! It was critical. In the Medicare business, one of the most important things they have is the STARS Program [which determines how well plans and providers are performing across a section of quality measures using information from member satisfaction]. Under this program, you get extra payments from the government based on the quality of healthcare people receive and their satisfaction with that healthcare. So you want to get ahead of the survey and hear what your customers are saying. You want more than an average survey answer — you want to understand what’s really going on.

Can you give me an example of when you needed outside insight to meet a challenge or solve a problem?

At Aetna, we tended to need outside insight when we were entering markets we did not know so well. For example, there’s a segment of the healthcare market that is both Medicare and Medicaid: senior citizens who are low income or who have special needs. There are complications in serving those populations. The government provides a lot of support if you can do that well, but you really need to understand those markets — not just what they need but also how to sell to that segment across different geographies. So, to understand how to best expand into that, we tapped outside experts who were already embedded with those populations. Some of them were people already offering social services to those markets.

Do you think the impulse of decision makers is to fall back on institutional knowledge? And at what point is that not enough?

People think they understand a market from their personal experience, so they don’t necessarily see other angles of how things could get done. Here’s an example: I was the first chief of marketing at Aetna. Many people didn’t understand the value that marketing could bring to the business, especially at a senior level. They didn’t understand the “art of the possible” with digital marketing.

They had ideas about what marketing could be, but they were rather limited. I needed to break them out of that. So, besides just showing them the ideas I had, I showed how competitive companies were doing things differently. It opened their eyes to other points of view and new ways of doing things.

Today, with the pace of technological change, demographic change, and new competitors coming into markets, there’s even more of a need to get fresh, outside perspectives.

Are there any last thoughts on insight vs. information that you’d like to share?

Yes! When you’re using data to make comparisons, often they require a level of insight that the data and information cannot reveal. Whether it’s a comparison between Company A or Company B, or Product A and Product B, you need to talk to people or get a degree of insight and granularity to really understand — not just that the data and information says there is a difference but also why. Use the information as a starting point to then go and get the insight.


To learn more, read GLG’s Insights vs. Information: Why Only Insights Have Impact guide.

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