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Today I’m pleased to share part two of a two-part guest post by Paul Laughlin.

For the second part of this two-part series on insight generation for product development, I return to that “brown paper” exercise.

You may recall that I’d advised bringing together representatives from across your business to run an interactive workshop. The following stages have already helped identify or produce material for that day:

  • Identifying priority opportunities (consumer needs or “jobs to get done”)
  • Identify key consumer questions, challenges, and/or barriers
  • Big “brown-paper exercise”

Everyone is there, and your insight analysts have curated the material relevant to business challenges and consumer questions. As I mentioned previously, this curation (or gathering and filtering) is crucial to have the right quality of evidence from data, analytics, research, marketing performance,  and market/competitor intelligence.

The walls are covered with brown paper! What next?

The remaining three steps that I recommend – and will explain in this post – are:

  1. Identify convergence of evidence/themes/understanding
  2. Explore mindsets or motivations that drive behaviour exhibited
  3. Idea generation on solutions

Converging evidence
The next step is the first task to give to mixed teams at the workshop (hopefully broad mixtures of both function and seniority).

First, they need to briefly read and sift through all the information available (probably printed out and left on tables). They need to identify what is most pertinent to the business challenge and summarise evidence by cutting out relevant sections (e.g., graphs/tables/headlines) and sticking them up on the brown paper.

One learning point, after in the past sometimes letting the teams decide for themselves what was relevant, is to provide direction and structure for this challenge. A useful method is to focus participants on the customer questions, challenges,and barriers elicited earlier. These should help them draw a simple customer journey from initial identification of need (or job to be done) through the questions and challenges they face when seeking a solution. That acts as a framework on the brown paper.

Now delegates can sift through the material, cut out what looks relevant, and stick it up on the relevant part of that journey. This should be a messy process with active discussion and pieces being moved to more appropriate places or replaced/grouped with others. In fact, the next task to give delegates is to group the information they have posted and write a “theme” name on each group.

A helpful tip for this is to encourage them to look for where there is a clear convergence of evidence from different types of sources (e.g., behavioural analytics and research). They should also be encouraged to select those groups that appear most relevant to helping customers answer their questions or overcome barriers/challenges.

Drilling deeper inside

At this stage, the delegates should have (probably written on large post-it notes) several themes that answer customer questions/challenges across the intended customer journey. They should be encouraged to write succinct short sentences that both address the question and can be seen to represent the evidence grouped nearby.

Next, ask delegates to prioritise the most important of these themes and drill further into motivations. A number of techniques can help to do this. One example is to get groups to use the evidence for each theme to draw a rich picture of what customers are thinking, believing, needing, liking, doing, saying, and hearing at that stage of the journey. This immersion can often prompt identifying a misunderstanding or conflict (like a behavioural bias) that offers an opportunity to help the customer.

Another popular technique is called the “5 Whys.” It is simply a succession of asking “Why?” to dig deeper into the rationale or emotional motivations behind the behaviour that is seen. For instance, you might see a customer not reading a piece of financial marketing material. Seeking to answer why, you might assume it is because it’s too boring/wordy. Asking again, why this is the case, you may identify that they don’t understand a number of the terms. Asking why this is the case, you may identify more about a lack of financial education and begin to touch on some fears. Often you will end up identifying fear of letting others down or looking foolish. Rich territory for better communications design.

What you are looking for ideally is a “Eureka!” moment, when you feel you have unlocked a strong enough internal motivation or limiting belief to explain all the evidence for how customers are acting and what they are saying about that question/challenge/need. Writing up such insights is as much art as science and often benefits from visualisation and photography to bring the human aspect to life.

Key to remember at this stage is the standard of what constitutes an “insight” rather than just more information/understanding/themes. I’ve shared previously that I would define an insight as:

A non-obvious understanding about your customers, which, if acted upon, has the potential to change their behaviour for mutual benefit.

Using that as a litmus test should help you judge if you’ve truly identified something that will help consumers change their behaviour.

Creating solutions

Normally insight generation workshops are enjoyable but exhausting for those who have fully immersed themselves. So I’d recommend stopping after the previous step and documenting each of the insights generated. This can be usefully done on a few PowerPoint slides that capture the theme, drilling down to emotional motivations and the core unlocking insights that are powerful enough to change behaviour.

The next step is to respond to these insights. Part of the best practice here is just normal product development process. But it is worth supplementing this with a preceding step to both prioritise the most important insight(s), normally based on a combination of operational viability and commercial opportunity. Then gather together, once more, cross-business representation (ideally the same team who helped generate those insights).

A number of methods can help to start idea generation. The challenge for this workshop is to identify high-level concepts that, if launched or offered to consumers, would provoke appeal, response, and motivation to buy/retain/use. Many sites can provide potential idea generation tools (from DeBono’s thinking hats to Negative Brainstorming).

In addition, I recommend structuring the ag
enda to ensure delegates consider all the Ps of Marketing Mix. Which elements of Product, Price, Promotion, Placement, People, Process, and Physical evidence would clearly align with insight and should respond to that customer desire/need/fear etc.

Different organisations and cultures will find their own ways that work for them. But I do encourage keeping a clear “line of sight” to the consumer insights documented, to ensure hobbies or marketing myths don’t derail idea generation into just coming up with “old favourites.”

One governance method that I’ve seen work well here is for the Product or Marketing Leader to have sign-off on the quality of insights generated (confirming they are a rich enough understanding to inspire design process). Then later the Customer Insight Leader has sign-off on product design (to confirm that what is to be built has a clear line of sight to insight). That handshake can work well.

Over to you
I hope this short series has been useful. There is as much art as science in product development, but effective processes can help avoid that becoming an excuse for shoddy thinking or too many unproven assumptions.

So over to you now. How are your existing insight generation and product design processes working? Are you comfortable that your better propositions are insight-led? Could you evidence their alignment to clear customer need to you regulator?

Any other ideas? Have any of the above steps worked for you?