Did you ever wonder how you can detect powerful consumer insights and set them apart from the ones that won’t be game changers? What is a good insight and how can it be a springboard for future marketing actions? The path we follow to uncover these deep and potent insights here at InSites Consulting is elaborated here. In this paper, the focus lies on insight validation, the often skipped but necessary step in the consumer insight process and how insight validation can help unlock the insights with the greatest innovation, activation or branding potential.
Digging for Gold
How to select those consumer insights that will
change your business
Head of Research Innovation
Survey Innovation Manager
Research Manager FMCG
Filip De Boeck
The quest to uncover high-potential consumer insights to
drive marketing innovation is not new within the wider marketing
For some time now many consumer (and even B2B) companies
have engaged in ‘close to customer’ programs.
These insight activation processes can easily lead to dozens of
insights that can all serve as a springboard for marketing
However, in the current commercial marketing environment,
dollars are not limitless, so a selection of insights with the
highest potential is becoming more crucial.
In this paper, we will explain how insight validation can help
identify the insights with the highest innovation, activation or
branding potential and uncover the why behind an insight’s score.
“The consumer is to be at the heart of all our innovation,
branding and communication.”
Recognize this mission? Although many brands claim
to integrate this credo in their DNA, many companies
struggle to implement this structurally. It is obligatory to
set up a structural approach for discovering and selecting
consumers insights that can serve as a springboard for
innovation and brand activation.
In this paper, we will demonstrate you that within this
process insight validation is a necessary, but often
forgotten step. But before we get to that, let’s first define
what a consumer insight exactly is.
What’s in a name
‘Consumer insights’ is one of the most misused terms in
marketing and market research. Here’s a definition of
A consumer insight is typically a short, single-minded
statement written in consumer language that reflects the
opening sentence of the product or brand story that
engages the consumer by setting up the need, the wish
or the desire.”
“A consumer insight represents an understanding
of the inner nature of things, leading to a discovery
of something that is not yet obvious but at same
time recognizable and real, and providing the basis
for relevant and actionable marketing decisions,
ultimately leading to competitive advantage.”
Our definition uncovers
some crucial elements that
a consumer insight should
possess in order to drive
A good insight is relevant for a
consumer. Relevance can be
driven by personal identification
or by peer identification (this is
when an insight is called
An insight should be fresh and
present a new way of
looking at things. This
includes both discovering
something completely new as
well as uncovering an existing
reality in a new way. An insight
should not be apparent
immediately. It is latently
present and often you only
realize that it is true the moment
you hear it. It brings to the
surface what was there
An insight should have an
emotional valence. It can be
a friction or problem that
consumers want to solve. But it
could also be a desire for
something. Consumers should
be excited about having a
The better the insight, the higher the business potential. It can unlock marketing innovation on different levels:
brand innovation, product innovation, service innovation, communication and consumer activation.
Even companies that put consumer insights at the
core of innovation sometimes lack the discipline to
validate these insights before starting ideation.
However, skipping this stage has several drawbacks:
• The cost and time investment further down the
innovation funnel is only increasing with time. When
selecting insights for ideation, solely based on a ‘gut
feeling’, you risk to invest in innovation that is not
based on a need that is recognized by a large
proportion of your consumers. Innovation or brand
activation dollars are not endless.
• Once you start validating concepts without prior
validation of the insight, it is hard to separate the
potential/quality of your concept’s different building
blocks. Is your insight driving the concept’s
success or failure or is it something else?
• Insight validation will help to assess the potential of
an insight for your brand and your target group.
Let’s be clear - we are not proposing that all consumer
insights generated during earlier activities are not built
on real consumer needs, but how do you know:
• which ones deal with original thoughts and
aspirations for your target group?
• which ones are already intuitively linked to
your brand’s DNA?
• which needs your target group is relatively
more motivated to see a solution for?
• to what extent the insight addresses needs
from all consumers or just from several
• Insight validation helps you to optimize and better
understand the insights. By several creative tools,
one can detect why a certain insight is not scoring
well. By measuring emotions, you get a better
understanding of the emotional space that an insight
in the fuzzy
Before we activate insights
and start ideating, they
should be validated using
an online survey with a
A first crucial step is to test
the consumer language.
Insights that do not pass the
‘Clarity’ minimum acceptable score
will be given a qualitative analysis
on how to improve the wording of
the insight for possible re-testing.
Insights are primarily
evaluated against 4 key
resulting in an overall
‘Insight strength’ score.
We measure both the potential
of the insight with the consumers
themselves as well as the
contagious nature of the insight to
activate conversations. This KPI
helps us map the insight’s social
The composite score is
benchmarked against a
global benchmark database
and based on that, a recommen-
dation can be formulated to go
ahead, rework or reject a specific
sample (N=min. 150)
Relevance Freshness Excitement Contagious
+ + + =
To what extent can
identify with this
Aha, I did not think
of this issue or idea
this way before!
How excited would
you be if a solution
or message was
address the issue?
How often have you
about the issue?
In order to gain additional sensing and
understanding of the underlying dimension of an
insight’s performance, we need to go beyond
merely asking questions.
The ‘overall insights strength’ score should not be your end
goal. It is important to move from validation to
understanding and to grasp why an insight is
underperforming or performing well.
By means of different tools and tactics, we move beyond
the traditional single-box thinking of asking questions in an
individual setting. Tapping into other collaboration modes,
such as task-based elements (doing), allows us to
contextualize the insights and to understand why an insight
is (not) performing well. It is often hard to explain why an
insight underperforms on a certain KPI; the same goes for
explaining score differences between countries. The
contextual elements provide a better comprehension of the
why behind these score differences.
Moving away from
by tapping into other
Consumers are social animals and are influenced by group
thinking. By means of introducing a semi-social dimension
in some tools, we manage to identify the contagious effect.
Next, our crowd interpretation approach allows to gain
BRAND & RESEARCHER - CONSUMER
With a set of quantitative and qualitative plug-in tools, we
stimulate consumers to think harder and better. They help us to
go beyond pure benchmarking. These tools allow us to
contextualize the insights and to understand why an insight is
(not) performing well.
The word-marking tool allows participants to indicate what
aspects of the insights they like and dislike. This allows us to
understand why consumers identify with an insight or not. We
can for example detect to what extent a friction in a given
insight is driving the identification.
Relevance can be driven by personal identification or by peer
identification. Yet we often lack an understanding of the ‘why’.
By means of using a result-sharing approach, we get a richer
and deeper understanding of this identification level. In this
crowd interpretation exercise, participants are asked to interpret
the results by using their own background as a reference point.
Previous research has shown that this approach uncovers 66%
of additional understanding and helps to filter out social
As pointed out earlier, it is important that each insight has an
emotional valence. Through emotional measurement, we map
the emotions triggered by an insight and their relative emotional
positioning. Knowing the emotional space claimed by an insight
is powerful information for ideation, concept development,
future communication and brand activation. In our approach,
we capture emotions implicitly as we want filter out over-
rationalizations. We put consumers under time pressure to
avoid that they start over-rationalizing their answer. This
approach allows to identify four important quadrants (see figure
on the right). In a second phase we show participants their
strongest linked emotions and ask them to explain the why.
It is important to get an understanding of the contextual space
of an insight. In the Picture Shop we give participants a set of
tasks, each with a specific challenge related to an insight.
Participants can complete a task by uploading an image and
reflecting on it. The inspirational output from this exercise helps
get a more in-depth understanding of the consumer context
related to an insight. Furthermore they also allow us to identify
potential target group differences.
In the end, a good insight should activate people and lead to
behavioral change. It should thus generate excitement for a
possible solution. Insight validation is often followed by an idea
conceptualization phase, so why not involve consumers in this
conceptualization and help us tap into that solution space?
In the ideation tool we invite participants to truly collaborate
with the brand and brainstorm on potential solutions.
Participants can create their own ideas, while at the same time
they see what other participants have posted. This social
dimension generates a snowball effect where ideas are shaped
going from one participant to the other. The output of this
brainstorm tool are idea cards that can be used during
Through a projective technique, we measure how close or far
away an insight is perceived to be to a particular brand.
Consumers are probed to think about the biggest brand fan and
are invited to indicate to what extent this brand fan would
identify with the brand.
Insight validation can bring a lot to the table, yet it
requires a careful execution. Here are some pitfalls to
be aware of:
• Benchmarks are crucial to evaluate the
performance of your insight. But insight validation is a
relatively new discipline, so category or target group
benchmarks are often absent. In this case, it may be
wise to add some ‘old/proven’ insights to create an
• Do not limit yourself to quantitative analysis
alone. Although insight validation is done through
quantitative surveying, it is only by blending it with
qualitative research that one gets the most out of the
data. By performing a content analysis on groups of
insights that perform (less) well, we can detect the
underlying characteristics an insight should have to
score well. It is crucial to go beyond asking questions
and include qualitative plug-ins that bring this
• Are all your insights scoring well in China, but not in
the Netherlands? You probably did not take response
styles into account. Previous research teaches us
that there is a culture influence on how consumers
rate insights. Therefore normalization is crucial!
• Fuzzy front end research is often associated with
innovation. However, there are also insights that
relate to communication, customer experience or
branding. Insight validation can be applied to all
types of insights. In this context it is also vital to look
at the individual KPIs and not only to insight strength
as an overall measure. For example, when working on
communication or brand activation, you may find it
more important that the insight is ‘fresh’ and
‘conversation worthy’ rather than other types of
• Crap in…crap out. Writing the insights that serve as
input for the validation is an art in itself. An insight
should be written in consumer language, focus on a
single-minded idea and clearly contain an emotional
dimension. This has proven to be a very challenging
skill in workshops with clients and requires
consistency and strict moderation.
• Insight validation is particularly challenging when it
comes to testing taboos or socially (un)desirable
insights. Taboo insights often lead to negative results,
due to the reluctance to admit embarrassing or
socially unaccepted situations.
About taboo testing
‘Our research has indicated that insight
formulation is crucial when dealing with taboo
platforms. We set up an insight validation study
aiming at testing different formulations: (1)
Original taboo insight, (2) Positioning the
insight in a positive emotional context & (3)
Presenting the insight in the third person, with
more context, through storytelling.
Additionally the Consumer Relevance KPI
question was asked indirectly in order to
identify taboo situations. Our results show that
the taboo effect can be minimized: whilst
performing equally on all other KPIs, the
Consumer Relevance increases when positive
or storytelling formulations are used. Using the
Relevance KPI in the 3rd person is also useful
to identify a taboo insight. Also, the average
insight strength increases significantly across
different insight formulations.
‘When going out we’re
usually just sharing good
times and catching up...’
‘When going out
I enjoy that feeling of being
part of a group...’
‘When in a disco, I want to fit
as one of the crowd...’
As part of an organizational drive to strengthen their
consumer-led innovation process, Heineken
International sought a partner to provide a
meaningful solution to help select the most potent
consumer insights to use as a basis for product
innovation or branding/communication initiatives.
Since 2010, Heineken has tested hundreds of consumer
insights across the globe using our Insight Validation tool.
We partner also in other phases of the innovation journey
(insight writing workshops, ideation workshops, concept
The insight validation phase has become mandatory
in the Innovation Process and the quality of product
concepts generated further down the innovation funnel is
clearly benefiting from this. Marion Hoek-Koudenburg,
Consumer Insight Manager at Heineken, explains it as
follows: “A protocol for Consumer Insight testing, which is
in line with our HNV Consumer Insight criteria, allows us
to even better understand our consumers and their
language, adding significant value to our innovation
projects while helping minimize the risk to the company”.
By conducting insight validation, Heineken
significantly reduces their chances of moving weak
insights further down the innovation funnel. As a
result, ideas and concepts based on validated insights
perform significantly better.
The latter is clearly demonstrated in a meta-analysis
which revealed that the unpriced buying intention of
concepts based on validated consumer insights is up to
20% higher in comparison with concepts based on
insights that were not tested upfront.
Cloetta’s goal is to build a solid foundation of
consumer understanding as the key to success for
break-through and break-out innovations in fun yet
rather mature categories such as candy, chocolate,
chewing gum and pastilles.
Cloetta is a leading confectionery company founded in
1862 in Sweden. They own some of the strongest brands
on the market (e.g. Läkerol, Jenkki), all with a long
Insight validation research is firmly embedded in
their innovation process as it helps them decide which
insights to take forward in their innovation funnel.
The team is often confronted with far too many innovation
ideas; which need to be validated in order to cherry-pick
those that can bring incremental growth.
Insight validation research is a crucial step in the process
and has proven to increase the success rate of
innovations through knowledge and insights.
Their quest for consumer understanding translates in
the need to understand why certain insights
underperform and how they can be optimized.
Insight validation in its purest form is not sufficient. Our
approach plugs in different task-based elements and
creative tools, allowing the Cloetta team to comprehend
why certain insights underperform or how others could be
Next, these qualitative plug-ins allow to uncover nuance
differences not only between scores, but also between
countries, which is a key dimension to comprehend for an
international brand, active in different markets, such as
Insight validation is part of the
Innovation is a journey. Insight
validation is only one step in
the fuzzy front end. Therefore,
and in order to ensure it is truly
powerful, one should not use this
Ideally, it starts with leveraging
existing knowledge: previous
research that touched upon a
certain topic, data collected by the
consumer care center, consumer
feedback that is shared on social
media. We sit on a (big) pile of
data and the efficient digestion of
what is already known can already
uncover new insights.
Consumer immersion is a second
important component in the mix.
New methods like consumer-
led ethnography allow you to
deep-dive into the consumer’s
world so we can fully understand
all consumer needs and
underlying motivations and
therefore discover new consumer
insights, by innovative techniques
like crowd interpretation or using
the power of Consumer
After validation, the most potent
insights are used as inspirational
springboards for idea generation.
Here also, companies often do
not involve the consumer. It is
important to ensure that the
consumer is “kept alive”
throughout the ideation – in the
physical workshop, through
overnight idea screening or
through virtual co-creation
research in isolation