Accidents Waiting to Happen: Millward Brown look at what consumer insight really means


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“Consumer insight is a great term”. So begins the guide for market researchers titled ‘Consumer Insight’ published by Kogan Page in 2004.

This enthusiastic embracing of the phrase seems entirely appropriate. The brand values of ‘market research’ were dull and tired. Consumer insight injects some magic and mystery and takes us closer to a focus on the value which we produce. As a re-branding exercise it has been a considerable success. Beyond this it has engendered more debate about exactly what value it is that we do produce, and it has, in some cases, led to the re-structuring and re-definition of roles, particularly on the client side.

But what does ‘consumer insight’ actually mean? What are the implications for the structures we have and the jobs that we do? And does it take us far enough?

In an essay which he wrote in 1986 Shiva Naipaul examined the use of the term ‘the third world’ and concluded that it allowed us to package together and effectively dismiss a huge variety of nations in different economic states with different political contexts and social issues. In a contemporary context we use the word terrorism in the same way, lumping together a whole series of events that may have hugely different contexts and motives.

‘Consumer insight’ is a similar term. It is a useful catch all for some of the things that we do, but it is used by different people to mean different things. If it is to lead to a different reality on the ground, then we must pin down what we are hoping to achieve. It is not enough for the brand name to change. The product must change too.

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Joint Winner (Market Research), WPP Atticus Awards 2005

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