Good consumer insight requires the mind’s eye

by Nigel Hollis | April 10, 2017

Last week I presented at the TUAD, the Turkish Researchers Association, addressing the conference theme “Sharper vision guides brands to a profitable future”. The following is a summary of what I had to say.


To start, I drew a comparison between binocular vision and research. Our two eyes allow us to move through this world with speed and assurance. Two eyes give us a wider field of view, more precise depth perception and allow us to see faint objects better. But without our brain’s ability to combine the images presented by both eyes, we would be no better off than if we had one.

The same is true of research today; new methodologies offer us the ability to see more precisely than ever before, but to make this new vision useful, not just sharper, we still need to turn data into insight. To navigate our complex and changing world with assurance we need to develop our mind’s ability to know what to look for; to interpret data and to know what is missing. We need to develop our mind’s eye.

Researchers today have more tools than ever before to help guide their business to a profitable future. Technology has opened up the world of big data and a huge range of behavioral insights. At the other end of the scale, neuroscience has created new insight into emotion and why we make the decisions we do. And, of course, being researchers, we love to argue about which methodology is best for which task. Ultimately, however, it is not measurement that matters; it is what you do based on that knowledge

All brands want to grow, but to do so in an increasingly fragmented world we need to focus on the specifics, not rely on generalities. Effective brand and campaign strategies start with a clear assessment of growth opportunities – how will the brand make more money? – and a deep knowledge of the target consumer. A clearly defined understanding of how a campaign is meant to make more money will allow sharper measurement of whether the campaign is achieving its objectives or not and what to do about it.

To identify an insight that will motivate people, we need to adopt the viewpoint of the consumer, put ourselves in their shoes, understand how they feel and anticipate how they will react. Brand positioning and campaign ideas must resonate with the target consumer if a campaign is to grow brand value. This means gaining a deep understanding of needs, wants, desires, fears and values.

Blind spots are just outside our range of vision and in research there are things that are so familiar that we just do not see them or take them into account. In the past one of the biggest research blind spots was between attitudes and behavior. Trends in one often did not seem to be replicated in the other. Today integrated data sets are giving us a far better understanding of the why behind the what. We cannot rely on one data source alone; we need to create binocular vision by using different methodologies and combining data sources.

Market research has a huge role to play in guiding our companies and brands to a more profitable future. However, we must not believe that methodology alone will give us sharper vision, we must also train our mind’s eye to see the insight in the data. Without our interpretation and recommendations new and more precise information will remain nice to know and not inspire action. But what do you think? Please share your thoughts.


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  1. Guy Gouldavis, April 11, 2017

    Hello Nigel,

    There is much to agree with in your piece, and it comes at a good time. Technologies' latest shiny baubles -machine learning, AI and big data - are giving rise to a belief that the human value of interpretation will be less valuable in the future.

    The idea of developing 'our mind's eye' is an interesting one. As a practitioner I'd find it helpful to see some examples of how to develop the different kinds of 'mind's eye' elements you mention. 

  2. Ed C, April 10, 2017
    I agree. Perhaps slightly off topic, I won't say "never," but I think it will be a long while before artificial intelligence or data crunching software can tell the complete picture of data or yield actionnable "human" insights into the issues our brands/world is facing. I think the mind's eye will be needed for quite a while!

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