Is a consumer insight creative?

It is common to associate consumer insights with creativity. But is an insight creative in and of itself? A few notions to avoid pitfalls.

The three roles of consumer insights

A consumer insight intervenes at three stages of the offer development chain, to:

  • orient innovation,
  • position a marketing concept,
  • inform a communication brief.

A consumer insight is not creative in and of itself.
It is an expression of perceptiveness. A consumer insight does not invent consumer expectations (i.e. motivations subject to tensions), but serves to decipher and illustrate them. These expectations may be conscious, unconscious, rational, or intangible. But the insight remains a tool for understanding. We might be creative in how we observe and assess, but not in the diagnosis itself.
What we do with the insight is creative
However, the insight serves naturally as a source of inspiration to create and imagine new solutions or perspectives. It thus potentially stimulates creativity. And while creativity does not always need consumer insights to inspire it, this then raises the issue of tracking back to the insight.
The delicate act of backtracking
There are at least two situations where a consumer insight comes into play after, and not before, the creative phase:

  • When the product or service is nearly complete. The insight is then used more to position the promotional messaging, rather than to create (or at most to adjust).
  • When we have employees or consumers imagine a given product of the future. Creativity then comes ahead of the insight, and the insight serves afterwards to justify the innovation.

In these two cases, generating an insight after the fact is a complex intellectual exercise, because the insight is often informed (or even biased or tainted) by what we already know of the solution. We then have a tendency to have the consumer say what we want to hear as the product manager. This is a delicate pitfall, where the insight becomes creative rather than genuinely perceptive, and where the diagnosis is identified in light of the solution – instead of the reverse. Certain techniques can be provided to help highlight and address this pitfall.

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