Interview | Insight Can Clarify Our Observations
Read Time: 4 Minutes
How do you define insight?
For me, insight is most easily defined as information that reveals something or someone’s true nature. It penetrates below the surface layer, not only to confirm and/or defy our observations, but to clarify them. Clarification is the key differentiator between information and insight.
What is the difference between information and insight?
Information is something we can know, or to an extent, easily find out. I can collect information simply through my senses — hearing, touching, feeling. It could be somebody’s opinion, or a fact. But it is not necessarily fact. Information typically tells us what is happening, so while it can be valuable, it can also be chaotic.
Insight gives form and structure to the information. It identifies the driver behind a given behavior and tells us why something is happening. Ideally, insight tells us if what we believe to be true about a given phenomenon is.
What should we be aware of to mitigate the influence of bias in the insight-gathering process?
Insights should be objective. Market research exists to get unbiased views. Companies can and often do directly ask their customers why they’re doing something; but the answers will be inevitably skewed. They will either be overly positive or overly critical. The risk of internally managed research is that companies often lack an effective way of reaching the audience they want to talk to most — those that don’t use or like them — which means they’re missing a huge piece of the population, which automatically skews their data.
Market research can derive data that is fully legitimate and in and of itself objective, but the totality of insight it provides has some bias attached to it. No matter what population we are talking about, those who participate in market research tend to lack the diversity necessary to truly be representative of the larger population. There are ways to mitigate these typically unintentional socioeconomic, racial, gender, regional, and other skews, but only if we remain aware of it.
The good news is this is changing. Our society is evolving where an increasing number of companies are being required by the law of the land, or the law of public opinion, to show that they are getting the opinions, profiles, and experiences of a tapestry of individuals.
How can market research go beyond information to deliver insight?
In market research there’s always a story to be told. Often, the research is solicited as a means of confirming a hypothesis. An organization perceives that a certain occurrence in their industry is happening because of X. They believe people are buying their product because they feel a certain way. At the beginning of a market research journey, you will already have a lot of information.
Take any common household brand. The company typically knows who their stakeholders are. They know how much a group is buying where they live. They might even have anecdotal information about how they feel about their brand through social media. But they still seek out market research as a means of hopefully getting an unbiased, deliberate, and ideally representative testing ground for their hypothesis around the driver behind the buying behavior.
Market research becomes a laboratory where we test whether our perception is in fact reality. We introduce and remove a series of variables about the respondents, the company, and the product or service to peel back the layers and discover why something is happening. Once we get to the true why of a given phenomenon, the marketing, staffing, and R&D decisions should become more effective. When we understand why something is happening, we have at least a few levers by which we can change it if we need to.
Do you think the impulse for decision makers is to fall back on institutional knowledge?
I think it’s human nature to fall back on our own experiences to make sense of the world. As does a corporate leader’s tenure let them effectively pivot in the operational and commercial decisions they make every day. But that tenure can also stunt growth because there isn’t enough room given to the idea that one person’s experience can’t capture the whole of a population. You can have all the tenure in the world, but you can’t rely on that exclusively, especially when you are required to sell to a large population of people.
That’s why you need both qualitative and quantitative research. Qualitative research lets you go deep. Quantitative research lets you go wide. It feeds enough opinions into the decision-making process that we can establish a solid view of the given market we are expected to compete, serve, and hopefully thrive within.
To learn more, read GLG’s Insights vs. Information: Why Only Insights Have Impact guide.