Can you train yourself to see actionable insights? Insight is a combination of data and experience when we can’t know everything. We get better at seeing them by continuously taking action.
One of the most overused phrases in marketing is the term actionable insights. To such a degree that I think the term has lost its meaning. At the same time, I strongly believe that developing both a competency and a capability around actionable insights is important for marketers. It is the seeing around corners part of marketing. It helps us to decide to take action and move forward in the face of ambiguity and uncertainty.
So how do I square this? My angst about the overuse and my believe that it’s important.
By first being clear about what I mean by an insight. Maybe because I am a technologist by training, and a data scientist by experience, that I like to pull things apart and describe and explain what I think insight is before I talk about taking action on them.
Do we know what an actionable insight is?
Let’s first contrast it to what it is not. An insight is not a result. Or at least not a full result. With a result we have a clear and full explanation of a thing. It is usually of a thing that has happened in the past. We do something, we take some action and then we have a result. We ask a customer if they like cucumbers, they say yes or no. So, we don’t offer them cucumbers.
Secondly, by then explaining what it is. Insight is something that is slightly nebulous. An insight is a combination of what we know and what we can intuit based on our experience or understanding of a thing. (See the dictionary.com definition ) We use insight when we don’t have complete or clear information. We ask a customer if they like cucumbers, based on the answer we rate them on whether or not they might buy our Tzatziki. Maybe we know the cucumber taste isn’t too strong in our Tzatziki, so they might like it even if they don’t like cucumbers. Or we know they like to throw parties and might buy it for their guests even if they don’t like it. Maybe we decide that next time we will ask them if they like Tzatziki.
While a result is usually an outcome of something in the past. I like to think an insight is more a reflection on what might happen in the future. Or at least that is when it is most powerful.
What we really want is to increase our confidence in the face of uncertainty
When we understand that an insight is something we conclude when we don’t have enough information to be certain, we can see the real problem is how do we are increasing our confidence in our insights. How can we have confidence in our insights to be able to make a decision about our next actions.
We can increase our confidence then by either gathering more information or having more experience, or both.
Part of AI for marketing is making use of data analytics and machine learning to try to maximize on the information we have available to us. Increase our confidence by collecting as much data on the customer as we possibly can, and then using AI to improve our understanding of the data. From AI to help with segmentation. To AI to help in predictive analytics. To improve our guesses of what a particular customer might do in the future.
We should also not underestimate the value of our experience with the customer. The more we engage with them, the more we can understand them. And understand customers like them. Making it more intriguing to engage with the customer who has already committed to us, than to find someone completely new.
Yet our insights can be wrong. We need to increase our confidence in insight while building in ways to not become reliant. To not treat AI driven insights as results. To include was of correcting bias. And to not stop seeking out new customers, if we have poor performance with our existing customers. We need to build in balance.
So how do we get better at it…
The more we exercise our insight muscle the more confidence we gain in using it. We balance it through making our next action an experiment. When we turn insight into hypothesis for our next experiment… then we are using insight to refine our path forward.
Actionable insights then become a series of actionable insights. Where we are building and refining. Training ourselves, not just our machines, on having more confidence in our ability to have insight.
That’s why I think insight is both a capability and a competency. Something for marketers to learn as a skill and then develop as a practice.