The tsunami of data that’s swamped marketers in the past decade has driven a sharp hunger for “insights.” Senior marketers need to make critical decisions for brands struggling to thrive in a densely competitive environment. There’s no room for reams of data; their advisors must distill the numbers into shrewd, concise bits of wisdom they can act on.

Companies providing marketing advice are scurrying to reshape their deliverables to focus on these bits of wisdom. However, “insights” can be as light and fluffy as popcorn – – the first ideas that jump to the top when a little heat is applied to kernels of data. Just because they taste yummy and are easily digestible doesn’t make them good for you.

To uncover insights that are not only logical and digestible but that will truly solve a business problem requires rigor in three critical components:

  1. Client knowledge: there’s just no substitute for client knowledge when it comes to producing insights that result in informed, correct business decisions. It’s not just a matter of creating a study to meet a set of rfp objectives – – any reasonable researcher can do that – – great research is created with the client’s broader business context in mind. Even if it’s project #1 for a brand-new client, smart desk research and deep curiosity about broader business strategy sets the context for more rigorous insights.
  1. Research smarts: A good carpenter knows what tool works best for the job at hand. Pick the wrong tool and you risk botching the job. Research is similar. Even the biggest research toolbox doesn’t guarantee that the tools are used right. It takes driving skill to maneuver a Lamborghini, the USAF doesn’t put newbies at the controls of an F-22 fighter jet, you don’t run rapids on the Salmon River without a seasoned guide. Enough analogies, but you get it. These days it’s tempting to bolster the bottom line by pushing critical research decisions down to (less expensive) junior researchers but it’s a risky proposition. Companies that are serious about providing great insights to clients ensure that seasoned experts weigh in on them.
  1. Interpretive framework: Truly eye-popping, mind-blowing insights are more likely when results are placed in a proven, rigorous framework. Here’s an example of what I mean:
    • Knowing that moms want easy-to-open snacks for their kids’ lunch is helpful.
    • But understanding that when moms give kids easy-to-open snacks:
      • they feel like they’re ensuring their kids’ nutrition,
      • so they are being a responsible parent,
      • thereby fulfilling their personal value of “good mothering”

That’s eye-popping insight. The marketing team has not only a strong product benefit, but a deep understanding of moms’ motivations to work with in creating and executing strategy.

That second bullet shows what happens when you take a simple consumer choice and benefit and place it into a “values” framework.   The product benefit is linked to the deep, enduring values that truly motivate that mom. Maybe you would have stumbled on that insight without an interpretive framework (and a method designed to unearth such findings) but the framework dramatically increases the likelihood of not just good but brilliant insights.

Taken together, these three components: 1) deep client knowledge, 2) research smarts and 3) rigorous framework spell the difference between popcorn and insights that sizzle.