Why Insights, Not Ideas, Drive a Great Strategy

Stefani Forster

Stefani Forster

Stefani is a multimedia content strategist with experience at some of Canada's top agencies and publications. She worked at Touché! Media and PHD Canada on various national brand campaigns before moving to the content side, serving as an editor and content manager at The Huffington Post Canada, Hello! Canada magazine and Corus Entertainment, writing articles, producing videos, and spearheading social growth.

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When General Mills came out with their Betty Crocker instant cake mix in the early 1940s, it wasn’t exactly an instant hit.

So the food giant asked marketing expert and psychologist Ernest Dichter (the man who coined the term “focus group”) to figure out why women weren’t buying. After interviewing groups of women, Dichter concluded that the simplicity of mixes—“just add water and stir!”—made women feel self-indulgent for using them.

By simply changing the formula to include adding an egg, which made women feel like they were still “baking,” sales greatly improved.

The Betty Crocker cake mix story is an oft-repeated example of how consumer insights can help market a product correctly. Contrary to what many believe, ideas are only part of the marketing strategy process. The best ideas—a.k.a, the ones that work—are based on extensive research and insights.

Ideas without insights are like throwing darts in the dark. Here are the three main insight categories you should be looking for and how to find them.

Audience insights

Knowing your audience is important, but too often we get caught up on demographics—age, generational category, gender —instead of psychographics. Great audience insights are less about the “what” and more about “why.” They include attitudes and behaviors, needs, wants and goals, life stages, other brands they follow, interests and motivations.

If you think your audience is simply “millennials,” think again. Entire generations of people can’t be lumped into a single category, and there’s incredible diversity even amongst people who are the same age, gender, and income.

Zipcar is an excellent example of a brand that conducted extensive research in identifying its audience and thus, its message: the unburdened, young urban dweller and world traveler.

Check out their brand positioning statement:

“To urban-dwelling, educated, techno-savvy consumers who worry about the environment that future generations will inherit, Zipcar is the car-sharing service that lets you save money and reduce your carbon footprint, making you feel you’ve made a smart, responsible choice that demonstrates your commitment to protecting the environment.”

They’re not targeting all millennials in a city nor are they targeting anyone who doesn’t own a car. Their audience is people who live in an urban area, have a certain degree of education, are tech-savvy and are environmentally conscious. This psychographic profile offers a holistic view of who their audience really is and what really matters to them.

Cultural insights

Customers today are very sensitive to inauthentic attempts to pander to a community of interest. If you try to be part of a community without understanding the influential figures, trends, language, history, and rules of that culture, you will be rejected.

A few years back, Taco Bell reinvented itself in a major way. The key to the company’s approach was developing a digital persona that its online customers could relate to. For Taco Bell, this meant a young, digitally savvy audience that appreciates humor, innuendos and a sharp understanding of Internet language, pop culture, and memes. (In contrast, there’s an entire Twitter account dedicated to outing clueless brands who try to adopt “hip” or sassy language in cringe-worthy ways.)

Competitor insights

If you’re offering hair straighteners for curly hair, you’re not just competing with other straighteners; you’re also competing with the natural hair movement. Anyone your audience pays attention to, spends money at or adores is competition. So is apathy, disinterest, and cynicism.

When dating app Hinge first launched, they were entering a crowded space already occupied by Tinder and Bumble. Cynicism over dating apps, in general, was an obstacle. Where other dating apps were marketed for hooking up, meeting new people, mindless swiping and anything in-between, Hinge branded itself as the anti-dating app—“the dating app for people who want to get off dating apps”—with the brilliant tagline, “designed to be deleted.” On Hinge, you can only connect with people if you have mutual friends on Facebook, are limited to a certain number of matches a day (no more instant-gratification and endless swipes) and have fully fleshed-out profiles to explore. By focusing on in-person meet-ups instead of in-app engagement and purchases, Hinge discovered a gap in the market—making real connections through shared vulnerabilities.

When looking for competitive insights, ask yourself: What is your competition doing to reach their audience? What works what doesn’t? Are there any gaps in what your audience needs, wants or desires?

Get researching

How you gather the data to glean audience, cultural, and competitor insights is worth a post all on its own. It takes time, tools, and experience to know what you’re looking for, where to look, and how to make sense of it all.

Customer surveys, focus groups, observations, website data, third-party data, and social media data are just a few of the research tools at your disposal. Things like Facebook insights, Twitter insights, Google analytics and platforms such as Klear can give you a better idea of where your audience and where your brand stands, and these tools are changing and evolving every day.

No matter which research tools you use in your research, insights are the cornerstone of a successful marketing strategy. They must be the first stage of your process for that reason—not ideas.

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