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The Insights Golf Ball

I am on a never-ending quest for insights. I work on project after project, I mine primary and secondary sources, I dig out all of those brand planning models, and I think and write and plan and think and write. My question today is about what, exactly, I'm trying to find.


By Tiffany McNeil

I am on a never-ending quest for insights.  I work on project after project, I mine primary and secondary sources, I dig out all of those brand planning models I store in my “reference” folder and I think and write and plan and think and write. . . and my question today is about what, exactly, I’m trying to find.

The ideal seems to be something that rings true – obviously, lucidly true – but that somehow no one has figured out before, or at least that no one has articulated well enough before.  And I guess sometimes I wonder if we’re trying too hard.

I saw Adam Lowry (of Method fame) speak once, and talking about his brilliant concentrated laundry detergent, he said something like, “It all started with this insight we had, which is that doing laundry sucks.”  With complete – actually, profound – respect for Mr. Lowry, um, duh.  So, the lesson I took from his speech is that fundamental insights are vitally important, but they don’t have to be complicated.  Where it gets complicated is in our effort understand them and execute against them.  How and why does doing laundry suck?  How can we create a product beautifully designed to remove negativity from that experience?  How can we convince shoppers that this is not a high risk purchase; that they can change their buying pattern?

Closely tied in with this is what I call the insights golf ball.  Except I’ve never called it that before – just needed a multi-layered, spherical analogy.  Work with me here – it was hard to find a good one (onions too cliché, earth to complex, peanut M&M too childish . . .).  So, golf balls, back when I used to collect them off the side of our golf course- neighboring street, had three layers.  A hard, dimply, white outer shell, a middle layer comprised of wound up rubber band type stuff, and a core which was generally rubber.

Let’s say that the outermost sphere of insights – the dimply part – is really filled with ideas that are a bit more like information than insights.  Some moms keep a running grocery list on the kitchen counter, roughly 10% of Americans run for exercise, people tend to cook the same 7-10 dinners over and over again, golfers are likely to have higher than average incomes.

The middle layer – the messy, rubber bandy layer (appropriately complex, please note) is the stuff that might still be category-specific or perhaps a bit broader, but it’s a little more emotionally connected.  People want to eat more healthfully than they do, they’re stressed out and busy during the week, they watch TV to escape their every day, and doing laundry sucks.

And the little rubber ball – the deepest, most profound, most robust and important layer is the one where you find insights like life is really all about laughter, or that a lot of moms are almost constantly frustrated with the fact that they’re not as perfect as they want to be, or the Oprah truism that all anyone really wants in life is “to be heard, given love, and to know that they matter.”  Great.  Honestly – these are great.  They’re powerful, important, and compelling.  BUT. . . will consumers believe me when I say “buy our secret product which through amazing wonderfulness is going to solve your biggest, deepest problem . . . that all you want is to be appreciated?”  Um, no.  No, they won’t.  And should I recommend that R&D go make a product that will solve that problem?  No.  Big fat (not to mention absurd) waste of time.

The answer – or the starting point, perhaps – can be anywhere in the golf ball.  If you can get one of those big, deep ones and REALLY nail it, you’re in excellent shape.  In fact, perhaps truly understanding those is crucial to understanding the rest of the golf ball (the folks at Method probably know what comes after “doing laundry sucks because it makes me feel . . . “), but you might not need to communicate against the big one to deliver something meaningfully useful, and hopefully therefore successful, for your consumers.  In fact, you probably want to be verrrrry careful if you decide to go for the big one, because it only takes one minute of groupthink gone awry to go from perfection to the dreaded “worse than expected” or from empowering (Just Do It) to patronizing (You can do it).

I guess I’m starting to be a fan of the messy middle – the rubber bandy bit that just seems to unwind unwind unwind forever.  The key, though, might be to find something along that path – something true and meaningful, pick it, and go.  Because no one wants to miss a launch window trying to find the rubber core, and take it from someone who’s unwound a few golf balls in her day . . . it can take a while.

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2 responses to “The Insights Golf Ball

  1. Update – found my notes from Adam Lowry’s presentation. The insight is “Doing laundry is messy.” Same idea. . .

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Tiffany McNeil

Tiffany McNeil

Director - Innovation Strategy / Insights & Mission, Plum Organics