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Getting Beyond the Obvious: Finding Real Insight in a World Overflowing with Data

Liam Fahey

7 Big Problems Blog Series: The Insight Discipline

Whether you’re preparing a marketing plan for a business, a product, or a promotional campaign, you know the typical drill: Analyze the usual sources (financial reports, industry forecasts, technology outlooks, etc.) and then chart your course. 

But with so much data available, why do marketers frequently disappoint their senior management or clients for failing to provide any new insight about how their market is changing and what it will take to win in the future?

A common lament I hear from senior executives is that the reports and recommendations they receive from their marketing teams, market research firms, and consultants too often just confirm what was already common knowledge.  For example, a conclusion such as the statement “Customers’ buying behaviors are becoming more difficult to predict” hardly offers any meaningful strategic guidance. 

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Frankly, the majority of “insights” I see in marketing plans and customer and competitor analyses don’t qualify as what I believe a true insight should be — namely, new marketplace understanding that makes a difference to thinking, decision making and action.  In other words, a true insight needs to be a combination of both

  1. An “Aha!” discovery (the “new marketplace understanding” that dramatically overturns your prior assumptions, beliefs and projections); and
  2. An important driver that will change managers’ thinking, decision making, and action.

I’ve developed an approach to help marketers get beyond the obvious to reach true insights, which I’ve outlined in detail in my new book The Insight Discipline: Crafting New Marketplace Understanding that Makes a Difference

Here’s a recent case in point illustrating the benefit one management team gained by using the insight discipline to reevaluate its historically staid market-dominant product.  When the team applied the insight discipline to conducting a more rigorous analysis of the technology drivers in their marketplace, they reached an “Aha!” discovery:  namely, the trajectories of three product and component technologies would likely intersect to give rise to a new breakthrough product within two to three years. 

And how did the team’s sudden realization about the potentially short life of their current product make a difference?   It caused them to think about their market in radically different ways.  As a result:

  • They began reversing prior R&D commitments to extend the current product line, instead appraising how to redirect resources toward developing new product functionalities;
  • They started upgrading manufacturing technologies, launched a new branding initiative, and began a first-time-ever exploration of using partners for new product development; and   
  • They undertook a series of customer visits aimed at identifying latent customer needs.

It’s worth learning how to use the insight discipline to reach a keener understanding of your own market opportunities.  In future blogs, I’ll share tips and techniques to help you apply the insight discipline. Your new insights could make all the difference between winning or losing in your marketplace.

Liam Fahey is co-founder and partner of Leadership Forum, Inc. and the creator and leader of its Intelligence Leadership Forum. He has been a faculty member at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and Boston University, and he now serves as Professor of Management Practice at Babson College.