Entrepreneurship26 April 20216 min

#StartitSavvy: rewrite the rules by creating true customer insights

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This month’s Bootcamp for the new Start it @KBC cohort featured a talk by our mentor Daniel Convents, a bioengineer who became a customer insights expert after 20+ years of product research and design at Unilever. In this #StartitSavvy we’re sharing his golden advice on how to define what your product or service is all about in a way that truly speaks to your customer.

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What is an insight (hint: it’s not about you)?

If you’re in the business of creating something innovative, you’ll have to put some work into understanding your customer and then translating those insights into something unique for them. Customer insights are about getting a benefit across to the mind of your customer and creating something that stands out for them. People are drowned every day in messages and products, so you need to break through their “so what?”. Cracking the minds of your customers takes insight.

Many people are a bit confused about what an insight actually is. Daniel says “this is probably the most abused word in the entrepreneurial world.” What most people call insights are usually just observations about what customers do and think. It’s important to have those observations, but insights are what take you beyond the world of the customer today. True insights are rare and happen only a few times in a career. They are what fuel businesses.

So what is an insight? First of all, it’s a resounding truth rooted in reality (no bullshit). It also sheds new light on existing customer knowledge. For this you need to understand what their world is about. Thirdly it opens new business opportunities, converting customers from what they are doing today. Just because something is new for you, doesn’t mean it is new in the eyes of the customer. And just because it is new, doesn’t mean the customer gets the benefit. Does your insight meet these three criteria? If not, Daniel says rewrite, reconstruct, or just ditch it!

Creating insights: cracking the frame

To understand how to create insights, you first have to understand something basic about how our minds work. Our brain is shaped by stimuli as we mature, after which new information follows previously formed pathways. In other words, everything you see is framed through what you have seen before. When customers tell you something, you have to resist framing it through what you know. New insights are about cracking your frames, and those of the customer.

Daniel sets out a five-step process to creating a new frame:

1. Agree: what is our territory? What is the sphere of this insight? Is it vegan food? Accounting help?

2. Rewind: collect all your observations and facts: what you know.

3. Forward: Immerse yourself in the world of your audience, understand their attitudes, habits, behaviours. Collect new observations and perspectives.

4. Mix: mix all your observations, merging observations that seem to be removed from each other or that have a bit of tension. Write, write, write. Once all your observations are exhausted, assess and prioritize.

5. Play: create a concept and prototypes to bring it alive.

In that order, no shortcuts. If you jump to conclusions and form a concept too early, chances are you will follow your brain’s old frames and not create a new insight. Immersion in your customer’s world is an important step, but you are not creating new insights until you get to the point where you have the potential to rewrite the rules. As innovation accelerates, what was new one day quickly becomes a competitive space. Think smartphones or vegan food. This demands continuous insight creation.

So what is the magic tool for cracking the frame? Prepare yourself: it’s Post-Its. Yes, those sticky little bits of paper have become the classic workshop tool for a reason. They allow you to rearrange and connect different thoughts. Collect all your observations on them and mix them up during the Mix phase to help create new insights.

Time to play: make it about them

Great, so now we have our insights. But we’re not in the business of selling insights (unless you are in the insight industry like Daniel). Our insights have to be brought into something that people can understand: a product and communication. A concept is based on an insight which captures the customer’s interest, has a benefit that converts that interest into value for the user, and gives reason to believe that you can actually deliver that benefit. Benefits can be functional or emotional: ideally they are both. How does it make people’s lives easier, how does it make them feel? It’s not about touting an attribute or feature, but translating it into a perception to the customer that it is somehow better than before.

The next step is bringing the concept alive: this is about creating the concept-product fit so that it all comes together and forms the starting point of your marketing. Don’t focus on creating the ideal, but come up with a collection of different executions to test perceptions and see what resonates. From that mix of prototypes you will identify your ideal combination. Understanding why it is ideal makes it easier to go forward with a strategic eye for what is right and wrong for your brand.

This is when you do your qualitative research: understanding how users interpret the product and how it makes a difference for them. It’s key to be interested in your customers: make it about them. Active listening is essential, observing what they are saying, doing, their body language, everything. Don’t ask why they think or feel something: this forces people to think in terms of how you interpret instead of how they experience something. Finally, you nail down which concept is the best: which one is superior in its attributes? Which one beats out the competition? This is where quantitative research comes in, where you measure overall opinions of a carefully selected audience.

Daniel’s final word: Doing the concept work to know how customers perceive you, what your benefit is and why there is reason to believe that you can deliver it creates a strong basis for your pitch, product design and comms. Don’t skip this work, or it may come back to haunt you later!

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