How CEOs And CMOs Can Tell The Difference Between Information And Insights

Picture of Tony Zambito

Tony Zambito

Share This Post:

Different Perspectives by Chris Homan
Different Perspectives by Chris Homan

Many CEOs today, as made evident by recent CEO surveys such as the IBM Annual CEO Survey, are emphasizing improving customer engagement for their corporations.  Realizing one essential priority is building a customer-centered organization able to compete in a fast-moving and dynamic digital economy.  Where holding onto customers in a multi-channel world becomes an important component of an overall customer strategy.

What CEOs and the CMOs have come to realize is insights can play a pivotal role in enabling organizations to shift their organization towards customer centricity.  Enabling understanding of what customer strategies to implement and how to design marketing effective at connecting with prospective buyers and existing customers.

With the overwhelming amount of data available to corporations, as well as, what can be called the “marketing of insights” by analytics, SaaS, and consulting firms, CEOs, and their teams can get caught in the midst of confusion about what really is a good insight.  Confusing it is.  We are witnessing top-down big data along with readily available public data broadly categorized as insights.  When, in fact, they represent customer information and intelligence gathering organizations have to be good at just to compete.

What Is An Insight?

Insights represent an intuitive and deep understanding.  For some in business, this is about as far as they get when trying to understand what exactly is insight.  When it comes to buyer and customer insights, what exactly are we talking about?  Here, an operative definition is provided:

Insights are illuminating revelations of underlying goals, motivations, mental filters, and emotions, which drive goal-directed behaviors and activities.

As you can see with this definition, insights are unique in that they can be defined as an uncovering of motivations and goals, which are driving goal-directed behaviors and activities.  Some of these activities certainly can include decision-making respective to a product or service solution.

Insight is a process of unveiling, which comes from the skilled use of qualitative interviewing techniques, observation, and an ability to synthesize or connect the dots with data if necessary.  This unveiling process is important to grasp for an “insight” is not something people, in our case buyers and customers, can articulate directly.  Most insights come to us indirectly through synthesis and observations.

Insights Inadequately Portrayed

Over the past couple of years, I believe the concept of insights has been inadequately portrayed.   Predominantly as something which can be predefined or predetermined.  Marketers can actually cause a fuse to break in the circuit breaker of understanding buyers when they introduce predetermination into the picture.  What do I mean?  Let’s say you have predetermined finding out about customer strategic initiatives, as “insight” beforehand, then that is exactly what will happen.  You will collect information on initiatives but not discover insights about often-unarticulated motivations and goals driving goal-directed behaviors and activities to engage.  (In the social sciences, such as in the case of psychological interviewing and testing, introducing predetermination can render a study and test to be statistically invalid.)

Carrying this thought a little further, sales often is in the act of gathering information on the strategic initiatives of a corporation.  These initiatives, especially for public corporations, are often made available to the public, whether through annual reports, filings, and quarterly discussions.  In addition, information on initiatives is gathered through sales conversations directly with buyers and customers.

What we see today in some circles of marketing is the labeling of strategic initiatives as insight.  This is clearly intelligence or information gathering for the description of an initiative remains fairly static, can be found, and can often be articulated directly by customers and prospective buyers.

Intelligence gathering can be defined as collecting information.  Information tends to be concrete and static.  Thus, in those cases where we see and hear the collection of information being called insights, it is actually an incorrect description.  Unfortunately, we are seeing examples of this throughout the business marketing and sales world.

This same reasoning applies to a product, buying, or decision criteria.  Teams within companies can determine such criteria, which can remain static over time and is a source of information or intelligence.  Whereby, a criterion such as “easy-to-use” is incorrectly identified as an insight.  What such criteria or success factors do not reveal are the underlying goals and goal-directed behaviors, which can reveal a previously uncovered and unarticulated insight.

A powerful understanding business marketers can benefit from is this: goals are not static.  They are dynamic and can be added to or changed drastically depending on intrinsic or external influences.  Which means, business marketers can be an external influence on the underlying goals of existing customers and prospective buyers.  This can only be true if, there are insights into the underlying goals driving goal-directed behaviors and actions to engage.

The Other Side Of The Confusion Coin

I also believe the other side of the confusion coin, with respect to insights, applies here also.  You see this push to market or sell with “insights”.  As if a product or service is truly a radical revelation and uncovering for customers and buyers.  For instance, much has been made, to the extreme, about the Challenger Sale and delivering insights as part of the marketing and sales process.  Prone as businesses can be, there has been a quick drink of the Kool-Aid effect when it comes to such a concept.

The significant point being missed is you can only do this if you have invested time to truly discover and uncover underlying goals and motivations of people, which drive their behaviors and actions.  It is an important point not to miss.  Many have gone down the path of randomly creating “insights” to deliver to customers and prospective buyers.    Only to find relevancy was missing in this type of effort with their customers and prospective buyers.   The “insights” presented to buyers and customers perceived as mere information.

Insights Is Discovery And Uncovering

The dilemma facing many CEOs and CMOs is how to marry top-down quantitative Big Data type of intelligence, which can reveal insights into trends, for instance, with that of bottom-up qualitative insights.  When doing so, they need to be aware of the important distinction between sales-oriented intelligence and true discovery insights into the underlying motivations and goals of buyers.

Insights are about uncovering the goals, motivations, and emotions of people (and people within organizations) for engaging in certain activities.  These activities serve as, both consciously and subconsciously, means toward accomplishing one or more goals.

The pillars of buyer insights research and buyer persona development are built upon this important concept of insights.  Buyer Insights Research and Buyer Persona Development were established as a goal-directed process aimed at uncovering insights, which provides a strong foundation for these pillars.  If set on a foundation of just fact-based and information-based intelligence, the foundation will be like shifting sands, unable to reveal fully the deep discovery insights needed.