Like most researchers, I’m constantly looking to give my clients “actionable insight”.
The truth is there’s no such thing.
Insights don’t work in a vacuum, they need the oxygen of imagination to spark ideas.
Great ideas, whether in marketing or customer experience, come about when you mix a profound insight about a customer need with skilled people’s interpretation of what it means for us and intuition about how to address that need.
Insight + Interpretation + Intuition
Mark Ritson, in the first of a new series on Marketing Week, breaks down the much-lauded Tide Superbowl ad. He makes a number of interesting points about marketing strategy, particularly about the tendency for marketers to obsess over media at the expense of creativity. What I want to pick up on is the story of how the concept came about.
Tide started with the insight that, in a commoditising category, everyone was talking about the same thing—removing dirt. No one was addressing the idea of perfectly clean clothes, and that meant there was a potential opportunity.
P&G briefed their agency (Saatchi & Saatchi), who came up with the idea that if Tide stands for clean clothes, and everyone in TV ads has preternaturally clean clothes, then every ad must be a Tide ad. A great concept, and the quality of the execution puts the icing on the cake.
As Ritson points out, that final creative leap can be frustratingly hard to explain or understand, but it’s not random. It happens when you take good insights, interpret them to fit a clear strategy, and then brief good creative people.
Insight: people want clean clothes, but the category only talks about removing dirt.
Interpretation: we can lift ourselves above the category by talking about cleanliness.
Intuition: if Tide = clean clothes, then every ad’s a Tide ad.
How it works for Customer Experience
I think exactly the same process is there in good customer experience research. The researcher’s job is to uncover insights about customer needs, to build empathy into organisations so that they better understand what shapes customer feelings, and to explore how meaning is created for customers.
None of that can deliver improved experiences on its own.
To have value, insights require interpretation, so that they are understood in the context of a clear customer strategy (I find “emotional value proposition” useful for this). Then comes the “black box” of creative inspiration.
Just like advertising there’s no way to explain how it happens, but if you get the right insight, briefed in the right way, to the right people, then good things will follow. In ‘Well Designed‘ Jon Kolko puts it like this:
“Designers learn to purposefully embrace intuitive or inferential leaps of logic…”
That’s what fuels ideas as simple as, my favourite example, removing the clock from a waiting-room wall to improve customer satisfaction with waiting times.