During large-scale unpredictable events such as COVID-19, insights—not just data—can help with accurate predictions and planning
“Insights” is a word that has gained ambiguity through misuse. Often, people use it to mean data or information, statistics or facts, but those definitions are too simplistic. True insights are more complex and powerful because they apply a human lens to our understanding of evidence and trends.
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When trying to predict behaviours during a time of rapid change, such as consumer food and beverage trends during the spread of and recovery from COVID-19, charts and graphs tell only part of the story. For better planning, brands must learn to take information a beat further, turning it into actual insight. Whether you are a market researcher, a sales person or a CEO, you will benefit from developing your insights capability through a formalized insight approach.
The value of data
We live in the information age, where it has been said that “data is the new oil” and the world is fuelled by it. Data can tell us valuable information including business performance through profit and loss statistics or category growth. But it doesn’t tell us the “why”, so using data as the sole foundation of a key strategy decision or product launch is ill advised.
Data, no matter how “big”, usually lacks context. Take for example the role of COVID-19 on today’s marketplace. If we examine purchases of toilet paper, data would tell us that sales of toilet paper on Amazon jumped 1,000%, year-on-year, between 2019 and 2020. At face value, this information could inspire manufacturers to scale ever upward. But context and human-centred observation tells us that many shoppers weren’t even sure why they were stockpiling the product, suggesting fear versus a rational and continuous need.
As we adjust to our new normal in relation to COVID-19, the panicked consumer sentiment is calming and so is some demand, meaning what was flying off shelves even two weeks ago may not be approached with the same urgency today. Data is a good view of the past and, in cases of real-time computing, the present. But it’s not always an accurate predictor of the future.
Adopting a bigger picture view
Whether you’re aware of it or not, you likely form insights every day without following a formal approach. Being an expert on your product, category or spot along the supply chain allows you to collate observations, data and context into insights at a rapid-fire pace. Before long, it becomes a gut feeling or instinct.
But, responding with accuracy and consistency requires stepping back, considering different perspectives and approaches and examining problems with a deep curiosity and an openness to finding insight everywhere.
Creating a formalized insight approach
There are a plethora of research and insight generation techniques to fit every problem statement or brief, but to hone your process, consider the below four steps.
Step 1: Identify your problem space
Spend time understanding and defining the problem you are trying to address. This could be a customer problem or a product requirement. Explore the constraints that are stopping you from achieving your goal, such as understanding the emotional needs of your target customer or what time of day your product could maximise sales. This will help establish what is known and unknown. For example, a ready-to-drink coffee brand might be trying to determine what sort of products to bring to market in this changing climate. By identifying the unknown information keeping you from having an accurate picture, you can create a plan to fill this knowledge gap.
Step 2: Find reliable data
There is a big difference between speculation and validation, but given the volume of information available in the world, sometimes opinions are presented as facts. With all of this “noise”, it’s vital to make decisions based on data that is credible, robust and suitable for your problem space. For example, I might read a news article suggesting that dalgona coffee is a new trend. Rather than take that at face value, advising the above-mentioned coffee brand to bottle such a product, I could validate the information by looking for sales figures over time or by using a predictive artificial intelligence tool such as Trendspotter™, which analyses the scope of trends, including how quickly a trend is gaining traction. Such research could reveal that this trend came as a result of consumers missing out on the barista experience while working from home, since it’s difficult to recreate the foamed milks for cappuccinos or lattes. Carefully vetted data is the most solid foundation on which to build an insight.
Step 3: Add context and observation
Data is valuable, but computers don’t create insight, people do. Because many problems are product- or service-related (i.e., how can we improve sales?) it’s important to consider multiple points of view. Visit stores, test products and observe other people’s reactions and experiences. Is a product flying off the shelves because of a great promotional price, or does it have a unique selling point? Remember, you are a consumer, as are your friends, family and colleagues. Ask around to learn more about their experiences. Doing so can help you gain a more objective distance from a problem, which can help bring clarity. During this step, the coffee brand team could tap its personal and professional social media networks to ask people “how have your coffee drinking habits changed during the pandemic?” or “what coffee drink are you most excited to buy after quarantine?”. These are light touch but extremely cost-effective ways to begin to build a hypothesis. Once you gather more information you may decide you need to invest in formal research. By following the process, you will have already built a strong case to secure executive buy-in.
Step 4: Make it actionable
Insights take many forms. At Kerry, we most commonly talk about consumer insights, but they can take other forms such as shopper, market or cultural. The most important factor is whether they are actionable. A good check are the ‘three lenses of innovation’ (Ideo): what do people desire, what is technically feasible and what is viable financially? In the coffee example from the previous steps, this may result in a packaging, product or service innovation, depending on the company. The ready-to-drink coffee brand, for example, may try to bottle a whipped coffee beverage, while a start-up could look at the same information and decide to disrupt the milk and creamer market with a new foam-stable product for making cappuccinos at home without equipment. And, an equipment- (rather than product-) focused company may add a line extension of frothers to its home barista range. Keep in mind company or brand strategy as you brainstorm potential innovations. If you can tick those boxes, the next steps or action should begin to reveal themselves.
Being able to develop actionable insight allows rapid evolution in times of crisis. If you would like to hear more about our insights tools and capabilities, contact us. To learn more about how COVID-19 is affecting the food and beverage industry, including changes in consumer preferences and purchasing behaviours, visit Kerry’s COVID-19 resource page.