One of the things that marketers love to talk about are insights. They are at the core of our positioning statements and it is common understanding that if you can uncover the right insight, you can connect with your customer/consumer in ways your competition only dreams of.
At their best, insights can create that 'a-ha' moment for your customer - when they begin to realize that you really really get them, that you understand their lives and their motivations and that you may actually belong together. And it gives them a persuasive argument for why they should buy/use more of your product/service than they would have in the first place.
The problem is that this level of insight goes beyond just the normal everyday insight - it falls into the classification of what I would call 'actionable' insights - those insights that not only show an understanding of the customer but also are persuasive and give the customer a true reason to do something different that what they normally would.
An example. For years and years, the advertising for Campbell's condensed Tomato Soup looked very much the same. Cute kid comes in from the cold and/or a bad day at school; Mom lovingly gives kid a steaming bowl of tomato soup; kid looks up with big toothless grin; Mom and kid share a moment that most moms would envy. Over the decades things changed slightly - different kids, different scenarios, different patterns for the bowls...but the overall theme stayed pretty much the same.
This advertising was truly based on insights gained from research that time and time again delivered the same results. When consumers were asked about their opinions/relationship with Campbells Tomato Soup they came back with the common answers of mom, warmth, love, family, caring, connection, etc... It was what Campbells Tomato Soup owned and it was that message that was used for the 'a-ha' - letting consumers know that Campbells understood them and their relationships.
The problem was that this messaging did very little in telling the consumer anything new or persuading consumers to do anything different than what they were already planning on doing. If you stopped two people on the street - one who used the soup every day and one who hadn't had it in 30 years - you would still get the same exact answers about what they thought about when they saw Campbells Tomato Soup.
When we started asking the questions a bit differently, we found out that while everyone had the mom, warmth, family, love, etc... answers there were truly some ways that heavy users were very different than light or non-users. Specifically, we found that, in addition to all the other givens, heavy users loved the versatility of the Tomato Soup. The fact that it could be combo'ed with grilled cheese for a great lunch for the kids or just had in a mug for a quiet alone time snack for mom or put out with an array of toppings like salsa, chips and cheese for make-your-own-taco-soup family dinners. When this idea of versatility was communicated to light or non-users it was as if a light bulb clicked in their heads. They too had a need for this simple, low-cost versatility in their cupboard and had never thought of Campbells Tomato Soup for this use.
This actionable insight became the "Possiblities" advertising campaign that launched in 2004 and is still going on now.
Fast forward to the new Microsoft advertising campaign that is driving home the fact that pc's are less expensive than Macs. On the surface, it seems like it is based on a very important insight - consumers are more value conscious than ever and are looking for ways to get more for less. They are looking for companies to recognize that even though they are cash-strapped, they still want cool stuff. From this angle, the ads make sense and are clever.
However, is that insight truly an actionable insight? Does it tell anybody anything they didn't already know? Anybody who has looked at computers in the last 10 years knows that Macs are more expensive - and the people who end up buying them do so because they are convinced that they are getting what they are paying for.
The reality is that the people who didn't want to spend more than $1,000 for a computer would have never bought a Mac anyway. So, then, what does this new advertising accomplish? I would argue 'not much' other than creating a negative image of 'cheap' for pc's and opening up the door for some easy ridicule from Apple (can't you just picture the 'I'm a Mac' ads that will come out of this?).
It is not enough to just have insights and rely on the fact that reminding customers of what they already know will push them to do what you desire. You must push past the easy answers and find the truly actionable insights - those that will open people's eyes and persuade them to break their status quo. Actionable insights are much harder to find/uncover - but when you do, the results are well worth the efforts.