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What’s the Difference Between Consumer Insights and Market Research?

Market Research and Insights are so often spoken of as intertwined and intrinsically connected. Edward Appleton shares his take on the two - and where the industry is headed.

Update: Edward Appleton recently interviewed Deborah Ancona on the future of qualitative research, expanding upon this piece. Read more here

There’s been a lot of discussions recently about how best to describe our Industry – are we market researchers, marketing researchers, Insight experts….?

I suspect that our preoccupation with titles and descriptors stems less from an identity crisis, and more from an underlying resentment that we don’t feel that we get the respect and recognition we feel we deserve.

Above and beyond what I’d call the Ugly Duckling syndrome, I wonder if there is a real difference between Insights and Research? And whether there are intercultural differences at play.

Here’s My Take

1. There are bucketloads of research out there. Drawerfuls. There’s much less real insight.

2. So – what is an insight? An insight to me is an interpretation, a “reading” of a given situation/behavior/ belief state that explains the dynamics of that situation in a different way, that allows marketing and business to approach and influence the end-state differently.

3. Research sounds respectable, scientific. Insights sounds of-the-moment and consultative.

4. Research delivers on Research objectives, Knowledge needs – Insights does that too but strives to recommend Actions from the data reading.

5. Insights is a business partner to marketing, research delivers to marketing.

6. Insights invariably delivers a narrative. Research delivers data that can be summarised and forms the basis of a recommendation.

7. Insights look to add richness to a topline opportunity (or threat for that matter), often putting forward a POV, evaluates, recommends, whereas research often is comfortable at a descriptive level. I think insights are looking to the Why/What next? and not just the What?

Are there differences in geography? I think yes. Anglo-American Marketing is invariably infused with Insights. Large pockets of  Europe still haven’t really got there yet – and it’s more, in my view than just a translation challenge, with Market Research translating simply and Consumer Insights really posing a language challenge.

One possible reason for the slower uptake may relate to how strongly different economies are reliant on manufacturing vs service industries, at least for Western European countries.  Arguably, if you have such a strong manufacturing business proposition, have a competitive advantage baked into your product, then Marketing, Consumer Insights, Communications or any number of added value components aren’t so critical. Having said that, a counter-argument would be that creating an advantage in mature markets invariably relies on superior marketing/customer/consumer understanding – insights.

I’m off the fence already. I think Insights is where we need to be as a body – consultative partners, without denying our crucial empirical, unbiassed credentials as researchers. Are insights professional evolved researchers?

What would you prefer – to be referred to as “a great researcher” or “a great Consumer Insights professional”? Or – to muddy the waters – “a great researcher that delivers killer insights”?

Curious, as ever, as to others’ views.

Oh – and enjoy your New Year’s celebrations, whatever you’re doing!

Please share...

12 responses to “What’s the Difference Between Consumer Insights and Market Research?

  1. I agree. Research leads to the insights. Insights are the true pieces of information that can deliver results. You can do all the research you want, but if it’s not analyzed properly, applied correctly and easily defined into action steps it will never leave your desk or drawer where most research end up.

    Being placed in a Consumer Insights role there is a big challenge at defining what exactly I do and how it can benefit my company, when the organization and industry are just now learning of it’s existence.

    Personally, I would rather deliver one great insight than 200 pages of data analysis, but this is very difficult when you have to wear both hats of researcher and insight genertator while trying to please multiple departments.

    Any suggestions on helping to get out of the weeds of busy work to get to the insight generation would be greatly appreciate!

  2. I think the key is in what David mentions above; insights have to be generated, created, developed. A true insight unlocks opportunities for the marketing dept.; for new ways of connecting with their consumers (via advertising) or for driving innovation through the NPD pipeline. True insights come most often from exploratory, qualitative research. It is difficult to develop true insights from quantitative data (typically missing the “why”), and by definition any research that is evaluative in nature is more about the findings, conclusions and recommendations than about consumer insights. Insights also imply activation – the what next – which then implies a whole host of other skill sets such as consulting, facilitation, etc. that most “researchers” do not have. There will always be a role for data collection and research technicians, but the future is calling for Consumer Insights creators.

  3. I couldn’t agree more–we have plenty of data, but what are we doing with it? I see there actually being three steps involved: data collection, data analysis and insight creation, and–most importantly–taking action based on the insights. Many companies are stuck in step one or maybe two. Those that can move to act on insights will be best equipped for success going forward.

  4. Am researching for a Polish-English translation of a direct marketing company’s website. It was very refreshing indeed to come across this among all the other guff and nonsense. For the record, I was trying to find out what the difference between Market Research and Marketing Research might be. Badanie Rynkowe – Market Research, Badanie Marketingowe – Market Research. Best wishes

  5. I’ve noticed in Australia and NZ on the client side a ‘consumer insights’ team is probably more likely to be focussed on using database analytics and modelling to deliver insights… and that ‘market research’ team is less associated with the word insights generally, but is using qual and quant data to deliver insights. I also think database analytics and market research (plus other data sources … online data, public data, etc) come together to form great insights 🙂 and that data integration is a weak point in many established companies… I also reckon that database analytics + market research would perform better as a collaborative ‘market and customer insights’ team on both the agency and client side… lots of complementary skills too!

  6. The difference I can see between market research is the difference between knowledge and wisdom. One might have plenty of knowledge from innumerous resources but to act upon a situation, it’s all the wisdom (processed knowledge) that really helps.

  7. Is the marketing strategy effective enough to produce results? The answer to this question completely depends on what consumer thinks of the strategy or the product for which marketing is been done.So for this purpose experienced and knowledgeable consumer panel is required who can give you correct insight.I would suggest you to refer LIGHTSPEEDGMI ‘s website where the consumer panel and market research quires are more clearly explained, so do checkout for more information at

  8. The only concern is that we can push for insights without substantive research methods to back them up. We can be too deductive. We want to land on that a-ha moment. Real insights come from an ongoing understanding of how markets function. The changing patterns of how people perceive and behave in the world. If we push for insights over research methods we can build a culture of landing too soon which is not sustainable. We need to stay engaged with the data to be insightful. This is not easy when short cycles of drive measurements of success. I would argue quite often what looks like an insight is simply jumping onto where the market is, not where it is going.

  9. Could not agree more, as I consistently turn blue in the face. We are and should strive to be Insights Professionals. Our role is to advise on the business not a one off research study. To have impact we must have experienced knowledge, ability to gather information not only from the research but alternative sources to strengthen research recommendations, synthesize, tell story, and have an objective POV.
    Thank you for this article.

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