Mike Anthony @ engage consultants

Mike Anthony on Shopper Marketing

Simple ways to find and then create shopper insights

with 9 comments

A while ago I wrote what ended up being my most popular blog post yet, on the topic of creating shopper insights.

It raised lots of questions, lots of comments, but still much of the feedback  focused on how hard people felt it was to actually  dig out an “insight”. I spend a lot of my life discovering insights for clients. So I’ve spent the last month or so observing how I work, and giving further thought to how I approach the task,  to add more to the original guidelines in my last post (If you missed that one, I suggest you go and read it here first!).

The difficulties of creating insight (or as Kenneth Chua of Tesco pointed out in a comment “finding” or “discovering insights” – as they cannot be created) – seems to be getting worse. As marketers we have more data than ever before, yet far from making it easier to create insights, it appears that this is making it harder. Large organizations are creating huge shopper marketing departments, geared up to crank through the data, check all the key KPIs, analyze and format the data as efficiently as possible. Unfortunately efficiency driven efforts, in my experience, rarely yield insights.

The dangers of “cranking the data through an analysis machine” are two-fold:

No-one takes the time to allow insights to develop

No-one soaks in the data anymore. Shopper marketers use data to measure performance (don’t get me wrong, I LOVE that we are starting to do that), but that is analysis, not insight. Data is used to measure against a broader set of KPIs than ever before, but that doesn’t necessarily create insight. Research companies use a template driven approach to present the data to clients, and if you’re lucky the data is analyzed as well as formatted. But the insight is missing. Or worse, the conclusions drawn are irrelevant, misguided, or just plain wrong (and are still not insightful).

Are we relying on the data (or the latest data) too much?

Too much data seems also to lead to myopia. We look too hard at one set of data and we can’t see the wood for the trees. Standing In the torrent of retail point of sale data, it’s easy to forget other reports, other knowledge and other inputs. The idea of the 5 W’s (Who, Where, When, What, Where) as a framework for understanding is well-known (though my favorite is the sixth W “Why-not?”). As Maureen Colley pointed out in her brilliantly articulated comment, retail data tells us little of the “why” and it is the “why” question that so often delivers the insight. Why does the shopper do that? Understanding their behavior is great, but it is understanding what drives that behavior that is the key to changing it – that is where insight lies.

So what to do?

My last blog on insights  suggested  a number of simple techniques to improve the chances of finding an insight, but here are a number of additional “tricks” and techniques  that I habitually use which you might find useful when considering how to find shopper insights.

Never rely on one data source – Insight typically occurs when connections are made – the intuitive leap that identifies the unobvious. Staring at one source of data is likely to dull the brain, rather than feed it and challenge it

Don’t rely on data – I love data, don’t get me wrong. But stir in some other things. What do you think? What does qualitative research tell you? What else do you know about shoppers? What else do you think you know? Relying on gut alone is dangerous for sure: relying just on data may be less dangerous, but it’s not going to lead you to insight glory.

Ask “Why”, and “Why Not” – Why people do things is really interesting to understand. Knowing why they don’t can be really powerful. The other “w”s are great, but Why is where most insight resides.

Ask the agency to give you a set of charts without the headlines. You might be lucky. You might have one of the few shopper research agencies who can genuinely create insight. But many struggle,  so let’s assume you don’t. Ignore their headlines. Better still get a set of charts without headlines. What does it say to you? If you read their headlines they will direct your thinking Even if you try to ignore their musings, it will have subconsciously led your thinking. Better to look at data clean (first).

Look at the data, not just the PowerPoint. I wish I didn’t have to say this but judging by the proportion of clients who do not have the data tables or raw data, I’m surmising that there are far too many marketers relying just on the charts the agency presents. Dig into the data yourself. Get colleagues to do the same. Even looking at the same picture, everybody sees something differently. The same is true for data.

Invert the answer. One of my favorite tricks (keep it to yourself!), – the “invert the answer” check. Take whatever conclusion the agency has drawn, and look at it upside-down. If they claim that 64% of smartphone users used their phone for shopping – think about the 36% who didn’t. Why ever not? If 82% of shoppers planned the category, what about the 18% who didn’t. It doesn’t always work, but quite often I find this starts me thinking about different shoppers, thinking differently, and that often leads to an “aha” that nobody else spots.

Searching for insights can be the most rewarding part of marketing. It can also be the most frustrating. Try some of these tips, and let me know what works for you (whether its one of these or something else you do). Have some fun with it!


Written by Mike Anthony

June 20, 2012 at 8:09 pm

9 Responses

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  1. Mike,

    I already read your first post and I am happy to encounter a volume 2 now.

    What I find most interesting about the above-mentioned, is the “why-not” and the “invert the answer” check. This way, you not only try to understand shoppers that follow a pattern your company “wants to see” but rather try to understand the entire universe of shoppers detecting possible unexpected new segments that can be served.
    Too often we assume that the opposite applies to the “why-nots”. If for example 50% of shoppers want to lead a healthier lifestyle, it does not automatically imply that the remaining 50% do not want to do so. Only by understanding the whole, we can understand its parts.

    Thank you Mike for sharing these valuable insights!




    June 20, 2012 at 11:13 pm

    • HI Johannes,

      Thanks as ever for your kind words – always glad to help…

      Glad you like the new tips – insight is often about looking at things differently in my experience – be it a different perspective, or a different angle, or sometimes in a different place. I think one of the great value-adds of a really good consultant is that they can look at things from a different perspective…

      Keep up the good work and thanks again!


      Mike Anthony

      June 21, 2012 at 8:57 am

  2. My experience indicates the questions often lead respondents to the desired result. If 50% say they want to live healthier, does that mean that 50% don’t or does it mean that the other 50% already think they live healthy lifestyles….Hmmm?
    Research is only as good as the shoppers frame of mind at the time they are encountered and only as good as the questions they are asked.

    Lindsay Mulock

    June 21, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    • Hi Lindsay,
      Thanks for reading and sharing.

      Its another great point – don’t get me started on leading questions, or questions which don’t create meaningful answers! When we do training on research we run an exercise where people have to choose good and bad questions. Everyone is always amazed at how bad some questions are – they never believe we are using REAL questions from real questionnaires.

      A topic for another blog I think!

      Thanks again for sharing!

      Mike Anthony

      June 21, 2012 at 7:46 pm

  3. Mike, once again you hit a nerve! Your comments are dead on, especially about the need to let ideas “cook” before the insights come. The opportunities for quiet reflection in the plugged-in society overall are pretty much gone, and the plugged-in work space extends just about everywhere and has made us slaves of the machine with virtually no private boundaries. [Before anyone jumps on me as a Luddite, I’ll admit that I love my iPad to a disturbing degree, particularly for the capability to stream obscure British dramas from Netflix anywhere in the house.)

    Was just discussing with a very senior researcher pal the disturbing trend of mashing up category development and insights positions. Countless times I’ve clicked on an insights job posting to discover what they really want is a number-cruncher. Two very different skill sets are needed, but companies seem to favor getting a numbers wonk in, and the insights function naturally suffers. I attribute that tendency first to having senior execs usually drawn from finance or operations (they’re just naturally uncomfortable with those wacky marketers). Second, the tsunami of data now available has become it’s own raison d’etre. Third, the big researchers make most of their money on selling cookie-cutter data dumps to clients; as my friend said, “the pin-headed market research managers don’t want to pay for anyone to think strategically or to write smart reports.” Which is why the big researchers are getting their lunches eaten by the design and ad agencies who are working hard to morph into full-services marketing consultancies. (He acknowledged such but noted that researchers are notoriously hidebound.)

    So many people forget that the data is a tool, and we can choose to use it or not, depending on our needs. Remember back in the day when everyone had land lines? There would be a mad scramble in the house to answer a ringing phone, no matter what you were doing or where you were (c’mon, admit you’ve at least once jumped out of the shower, or interrupted … ahem … to run to the phone). We forgot that the phone is a tool that we buy for our convenience – it became a tyrant, and now has become an obsession.

    At what point do we say “enough data” and start thinking?

    Lauren Cercone

    June 22, 2012 at 12:38 am

    • Dear Lauren,

      Thanks so much for such an intelligent reply (and for making me smile in the last paragraph! ;))…

      I think the reasons you state are very solid and quite possibly true – though I may put them in a slightly different order, and add a few.

      I think you have nailed many of the causes for the situation, and clearly the major shift has been the significant availability of data. The desire for “accountable and measurable marketing” has been around for ages – the shopper marketing world is simply able to respond to that easily. Perhaps part of the reason why shopper marketing leaders are so data driven is that this is a language that gets them noticed by senior managers – and perhaps investment in shopper marketing is driven partly because it has the data. Perhaps the rush of cahs into digital and mobile marketing is also supported by this?

      And to be clear – I LOVE DATA. I love measurability, and I love the absoluteness of seeing real numbers which I can make sense of. The marketing world is typically better off for data. But when the words “insight” and “analytics” are used almost interchangeably I get a little worried that we’ve forgotten the purpose behind all of the data. The data started off as the means, and it has become the end in some cases. As marketers we need to remember the purpose for all the data – the “why” if you will, which brings me back to the blog 🙂

      Thanks again for reading and contributing to the conversation.

      All the best,


      Mike Anthony

      June 22, 2012 at 8:24 am

  4. Mike,

    I just published a post on “What is a Shopper Insight”. The article first defines shopper insights and then shows examples of different forms.

    It might be interesting to you and your readers!

    Keep up the excellent work!




    June 26, 2012 at 5:21 am

  5. […] we shop unconsciously? Mike Anthony offers simple ways to find and createshopper insights. Brandsintrade has developed a 95-question online survey tool to tighten brand, consumer and […]

  6. […] what we know about consumers, what we know about shoppers, and what we know about retailers. The ability to handle all of this and create meaningful stories to support recommendations, plans and decisions is critical. As is […]

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