Building an insight-based strategy: data, context and human intelligence

Amelia Hernandez

10 August 2017

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We recently delved into the role of the Data Scientist. In the study we highlighted the importance of making insight-based decisions, but we did not focus on the insights themselves. Which insights are most relevant for your organization? Not all insights have the same objectives, nor are the processes through which they are developed uniform, above all when it comes to the developing new products or services or taking strategic long term business decisions.

Tricia Wang, Technology Ethnographer, affirms that “over 73% of Big Data projects are not profitable”. You would think that having the data would guarantee some level of success, but her experience and the experience of the executives she works with daily suggests otherwise. Why? Because data itself, without context and understanding is not an insight – it’s just an input. The key is to ensureboth the capacity to interpret data, through the work of Data Scientists, as well as the understanding that not all insights are equal, and each has its own value and purpose.

In 2009, Wang conducted market research in China for Nokia and concluded that even the poorest Chinese citizens had their eyes on obtaining a Smartphone. Unfortunately, the data that the telecommunications company managed did not corroborate Wang’s findings and they rejected the business opportunity, citing millions of data points. You are surely familiar with Nokia’s not-so-happy ending. They became as obsolete as the data they clung to.

In this article we will try to help you understand different applications for insight, and how these insights can impact your organization and the strategic decision making process.

Whilst preparing this article, we realized that there are so many vast and different views on insights and depending on your field, the definition and characteristics vary considerably. The key to making use of insights lies in knowing how to interpret them. Strategic insights are hybrids in themselves; there is not one absolute truth that we can extract as if it were science. Insights (as we understand them) are the nexus between data, context and intuition.

In this article we will look at the application of insights in regards to creativity, branding and operations.

Creative insights

As consumers, this is the most common type of application,given that we are all users of different brands who seek to conquer our minds and wallets daily.

Creative (advertising) teams spend hours trying to understand people, deciphering behaviour or messages to find out what consumers want, what they really think but don’t say, in order to transform these ideas into a creative concept that will resonate with them.

At Good Rebels we have created many campaigns based on these creative insights and we’d like to share one with you that we think illustrates this idea quite well; the “Creamaholics” campaign for the beauty/skincare brand Kiehl’s.

This campaign was born as a creative concept to reinforce the brand’s advertising campaign, but at the same time served to establish the brand’s unique positioning. Once we analyzed the user’s voice and understood what they really wanted, we concluded that Kiehl’s fans loved taking care of themselves, for which they turned to high end brands, but at the same time there was a critical pain point in their customer journey when it came to using the products; they weren’t sure how to apply the products.

When we put together data and intelligence it led to the following core insights which represented how consumers felt and behaved; ‘I’m “addicted” to my creams, my bathroom is full of products, but I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t really know how to use them’. What did we do with this insight? We came up with the “Creamaholics Anonymous Association”, a platform where consumers could reveal their “little problem” with creams in order to receive advice from a Kiehl’s professional who would explain how to use the different products correctly and responsibly, which would in turn increase benefits.

The campaign was, and remains to this day, a success, so much so that it’s being rolled out to other countries. Here is a video of the “Creamaholics” launch.

Brand insights

These are transformed into key drivers of brand communication strategies. Connecting with consumers and thereby constructing a more relevant brand.

A clear example that can help us contextualize branding insights is the Dove case. They have been very smart in knowing how to listen to consumers, adapt to their context and extract what users really wanted or needed to hear; women are tired of having to be perfect or appear that they are perfect. Thanks to this main insight, Dove is challenging beauty stereotypes, putting people at the center of what they do and in this way, positioning itself as the brand for real women, that is, all women.

Operational insights

Centered on the value chain and proposition, operational insights guide the most strategic business decisions. These insights are oriented towards operational innovation and are useful when working to build a competitive advantage or improve internal procedures, increasing production efficiency and service quality, while at the same time augmenting the value proposition for consumers.

One classic example is Netflix. Their recommendation algorithm is unique and is currently recognized as the best in the entertainment business, but it wasn’t always so. It wasn’t until they discovered – by fusing data interpretation with deep qualitative understanding of consumer behavior – that what people really wanted was to binge watch their favorite series, rather than consuming a greater variety in a shorter period. This simple insight had a great impact on the brand, which not only achieved higher viewing results but also changed the way consumers consume content on-demand across all media.
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The role of data and technology

We live in the era of Big Data; the Godzilla of data that promises to be both a modern-day oracle and the source of innovative ideas. But, without a qualitative filter and the addition of human intuition, data can be misread, and can become an obstacle to reaching meaningful insights.

Let’s look at another example, based on our work for a Latin American retailer who wanted to gain a better understanding of their consumers and their purchasing behavior. Our consumer research provided us with many data points, including the following:

  • Most store traffic occurred over the weekend
  • Most purchases were realized during the workweek, at the beginning of the month

What kind of insight can we glean from this information? How can we interpret this transactional and behavioral data?

Before jumping to conclusions, we needed to compare these data inputs with our consumer insights, gained from first hand research techniques with the sales and marketing teams, as well as focus groups with customers. We discovered that the weekend visits were seen as a family activity, most often integrated into family leisure activities, although the time in store was shorter as most shoppers (mainly women) had to divide their attention between their family and the shopping.

We also learned that frequent shoppers used their weekend excursions to pick out what they liked most and show it to their partners before purchasing. As soon as they were paid they would stop by the shop again to try items on, chat with sales assistants and make their purchases. The sales staff revealed that their most frequent customers spent three times as long in the shop when they went alone and really valued the personal attention they received on these visits.

How do we apply this insight?

  • Creativity: the data can be used to generate a creative campaign based on personalized attention; on the moments when a consumer chooses to pamper and treat themselves, representing the in-store experience and coinciding with payday.
  • Branding: it is important to place high value on what the brand represents for clients and reinforce the brand’s positioning.
  • Technology: there is an opportunity here to take advantage of internal knowledge to apply an innovative technological solution. One might be creating a multichannel wishlist (in-store or online), in which customers can pick out those items they want to try on later, schedule a visit and reserve their size. This will help stores optimize stock based on the sizes and preferences of their most frequent customers. This will help strengthen the value proposition and create a competitive advantage.

Data insights lead us to question the reasons why behind what we already know, bringing out the best inhuman intelligence, and thanks to technology, we can offer new experiences that connect with consumers in an innovative way and disrupt new markets.

At Good Rebels we never tire of speaking about our Human-Centered vision. We love real advertising, human technology and insights centered around people. That’s why we agree 100% with what Tricia Wang explained in her Ted talk “The human insights missing from Big Data”, that real life observations are as valuable – or more valuable – than a myriad of data points coming from Big Data projects.

Quantitative data can shed light on the current state of your organization, but it shouldn’t be considered a magic pill that always results in innovation just because it’s there. It is important to know how to interpret that data and contextualize it within our user’s reality. The solutions we come up with must be useful and go beyond the bounds of consumer imagination. If we only offer incremental improvements in product or service we will not be disruptive. When we put ourselves in the skin of the user and empathize, that’s when we will understand and predict the real impact of our ideas.


Having a working understanding of consumer motivations and habits does not necessarily mean that we know what will improve their lives or that we can base an innovation project on “this is what I think people think that they want.” Insights help us understand and create.

Google, a company known for continual disruption, speaks of its 9 principles of innovation, the fourth being “Bet on technical insights”, meaning committing to an improvement or new product based on technology that drastically reduces the costs of results and establishes clear market differentiation.

Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenber also underscore the importance of technical insights and their ability to encourage intrepreneurship to generate new products or services in their book, “How Google Works“. In the book they explain how the most successful ideas have resulted from this magic formula, from Google Search, Page Rank, Gmail and Google Earth to the Google Car. But the tech giant isn’t immune to the dangers we spoke of above.

Do you remember or have you ever used Google+? You don’t have to answer, the engagement data spoke for itself. In retrospect, we see that the insight behind the failed social network was not meaningful for users: “Create a social network or risk everything”, even the way it was managed defied their coveted “googliness”, putting a business need above all else.

What lessons can we learn from Google+?

  • The Why? Development of Google+ was not based on a relevant user insight, but rather a need to compete with Facebook.
  • The How? It broke the usual development cycle that characterizes Google’s best hits; applying a secretive, non-collaborative development style.
  • The What? They did not really come up with something useful that users did not have already. Who would want another social network to do what you are already doing?
  • The How Much? In comparison with other Google innovations, Google+ started out big. They did not start with a small beta test and quickly iterate. They went to market with a bang, Apple style.
  • The When/Where? No one was looking to open another network given that users had already developed regular habits for sharing pics, opinions and moments.

Although Google+ never became the social network it set out to be, the Californian giant eventually learned from the experience. Thanks to Google+ we now have a single login for the G-suite applications, Video Hangouts are now a useful tool for both personal and professional purposes and our photos are more organized than ever!

If we aim to be relevant to the people we are trying to reach, the reason behind each new idea has to start with an understanding of those people and remain consistent with who we are. Oh, and of course, follow your instincts 😉