Why Consumer Insight For Innovation Can Be Initially Uncomfortable

Many organisations have realised that the way you uncover the insight required for innovation needs to be very different to that for standard brand management. Most insight departments are up for testing new ways of working, but what they don’t realise is the impact that it can have on internal beliefs, practices and behaviours. It is important to recognise where there are likely to be stakeholder issues and have a plan of attack in place to ensure a smooth transition.

Here are a few areas that we have found often cause trouble;

1.Bust the myth that it’s all about passive observation

Innovation consultancies and product design agencies have done a good job of getting organisations away from utilising focus groups for innovation. It is now widely recognised that observing people in their real life situations is the way forward. Observation is crucial but it is detrimental to stop there. Participating in your consumers’ world is the next step to uncovering even deeper insights. Having consumers working with you to help solve a problem means they are not just lab rats but actual contributors and problem solvers for you. Consumers are capable of contributing so much more than organisations tend to give them credit for.


  • Consumers can contribute in a highly insightful way as long as the stimulus material is turned into games and tools to get consumers engaged, thinking and enjoying what they are doing. The type of stimulus material will need to be totally different
  • Consumers need to be challenged. They are often lazy. Getting to their true motivations means not letting them off hook with lame responses. It is not about having some nice, impartial moderator
  • The idea is to break down the barriers by not treating it like research. It should feel like teamwork. The result being consumers feel more relaxed and open for discussion and ideation

2. No two way mirrors!

Historically markets and consumer insight managers have enjoyed watching their consumers from behind a 2-way mirror. However, in the new way of working with consumers this is not appropriate. As previously mentioned it is all about teamwork and real world environments to generate trust. This is a massive cultural change, marketers love focus groups despite them being highly flawed as it gives them the feeling of proximity to the consumer. However, getting really close emotionally is what face-to-face deep dives do. Therefore, proximity becomes a ‘nice to have’ once deeper insights start to be uncovered.


  • Proximity can be delivered and brought to life through video, photography and voice recordings
  • Manage the cost of this through highlighting the benefits of a tangible record that can be used as a sales tool in the business

3. Expect backlash

A woman holding her out with 'no' written on itIf organisations are committing to game changing innovation they need to prepare to feel very, very uncomfortable! Change is never easy and this will throw up challenging behaviours. A tendency to defend the ‘old way’ and block the new is natural. A new way to uncover insight is likely to elicit findings that do not fit with what you currently believe and know. It often creates disbelief or can even be parked without any attempt to validate it. And sometimes it results in finger pointing as to why the organisation had not got a handle on this before.


  • Knowing that there will be a strong feeling of un-comfortableness means that stakeholders really need to be made aware that this is likely to happen and be ‘onboarded’ before a project starts.
  • Encourage people to open up to a new way of thinking and the potential benefits – competitive advantage, market changing ideas etc.

So the question to organisations is – are you brave enough? It is commonly stated that change is needed to get game changing innovation. The method of gaining deeper consumer insight is one of the key starting points.