What really are consumer insights?

Consumer Insights

Consumer insights is a commonly used expression in research, marketing and publicity. But we must recognize that it is an ambiguous and unclear term. Each researcher, marketer or publicist defines it in a different way.

Some time ago, there was a discussion about the meaning of this term, precisely in a group called Consumer Insights Consumer Insights Interest Group on LinkedIn. Participants in the discussion, all of them researchers of the topic, proposed more than 20 definitions, as different among them as the following:

  • A new learning about consumer behavior which has the potential of making a brand or category grown.
  • An opportunity based on a solid conviction that leads to action.
  • The result of applying knowledge or theories to observation, with the purpose of understanding what would not be evident otherwise.
  • The truth, such as it happens in the mind of consumers.
  • A profound finding with consequences which were previously unknown.
  • A gut feeling; a message one feels but which is not rational at all.

Reviewing definitions of insight used by companies or published in books, articles and conferences, we also found a very similar variety. Here are some examples:

  • It is something you know, but which the competition ignores.
  • The understanding of beliefs, values, habits, desires, motives, emotions or needs of the consumer, which can be the basis of a competitive strength.
  • Insights are the motivations behind the facts. They help us understand the “why’s” behind the facts.


In the LinkedIn discussion, there were people who considered it normal and even nurturing to have such a wide diversity of definitions. But there were also some people who questioned this, by saying that “only shared definitions can lead to a shared and widely accepted knowledge”.

I agree with the latter opinion. If researchers, publicist and marketers do not proceed from a widely accepted definition, how will we answer our client companies’ requirements?

In order to reach a common definition, I think it is necessary to go back to the origin of the word insight. The first person to use it was Wolfgang Kohler, a Gestalt psychologist, who “invented” it to describe the sudden and brilliant “ideas” que observed in the chimpanzees he studied. His experiments proved the role of intelligence in learning and problem solution. If, in marketing, we are talking about the same thing as Kohler, an insight must be a finding that we suddenly obtain, which allows us to solve a problem or obtain a specific advantage in a certain situation.

On the other hand, in my point of view, the difficulty in finding a commonly accepted definition comes from the fact that the term “consumer insight” is used in two clearly differentiated standpoints:

From the consumer standpoint, an insight can be defined as “a though, idea or attitude which drives a certain purchase behavior”. Since not all consumers have the same thoughts, ideas or attitudes, the basic objective or challenge of studies around this topic must be to “discover” the largest possible number of individual consumer insights. Such findings can come from what we observe, as well as from what we ask.

Instead, from a marketing decision standpoint -in which researchers, marketers, publicists and company executives are involved- the challenge is to add and integrate the individual insights identified, in order to “build a new insight” with all of this knowledge about the brand’s target (including its motivations and needs). We can then define the marketing consumer insight as “a thought, idea or actionable concept, built from individual consumer insights It has the necessary potential to impact targets, with the objective of positioning the brand and/or creating a successful publicity campaign”.

An interesting detail: the definitions of consumer insights at both levels match Kohler’s original concept. In both cases, we are talking about sudden and brilliant ideas that allow us to solve a problem and obtain an advantage. The individual insight is an idea which allows consumers in decision making when purchasing. And the insight used for marketing decisions applies market intelligence to boost the success of a brand.