Insight to better ignite ideas

Many of my recent projects have been focused on product or service innovation. My involvement often starts with preparation for idea generation activity.

Part of this preparation almost always involves gathering and reviewing available insight into our target consumer and/or customer. I embrace this insight as a core ingredient (alongside other material) for both successful idea generation and for the concept development that usually follows.

The good news is that data on our target’s demographics, motivations, media consumption and product / service use is rarely a problem. However, having reviewed what is available I am often a little disappointed – reaching a conclusion that it has been produced to support communication rather product or service creation.

In response I often challenge (very politely) my clients to gather richer information that can better ‘ignite ideas’. When I discuss this challenge, I explain the need for 5 C’s of insight for idea generation. That is, insight that goes beyond ‘characteristics and consumption understanding’ to include information on how choices are made, what influences use and purchase, and importantly specific concerns or problems with current solutions.

I have summarised my 5 C’s (namely: characteristics, consumption, concerns, choosing and context) with some indicative questions. (Note, this is just a ‘flavour’ and happy to share more detail with potential clients!)


Clients usually have plenty of this stuff, so I won’t dwell on it! Questions include:

a) What needs, attitudes, life-events, product holding, channel usage and socio-economic factors distinguish out target segment?

b) What needs, preferences and motivations are especially important for the area of opportunity we are exploring?


Again, this information is usually in abundance – together with media consumption data. Two frequent questions are:

a) What do we know about the product/service consumption journey (including transporting, locating, using, disposing, etc). 

b) What are the triggers and barriers to consumption of the category and/or our brand’s offering? 


Deep truths and motivations are really great, but in addition I am anxious to identify specific problems or issues that can be fixed.  This is worth pushing for as research functions may have only a subset of what is available across the business.

Observational material can also be produced quickly to identify difficulties or problems (and then used as stimulus in ideation workshops).  Some key questions include:

a) What are the problems, issues, dissatisfactions  or complaints with product or service delivery we have identified or observed? How does this change depending on task/occasion/specific user? 

b) What are the specific shortfalls compared to competitive or substitute products or categories?

c) How do users compensate for problems or limitations with other actions, purchases, etc?


Choosing is also often an under-represented area. This, for me, encompasses short-listing, shopping and buying products or services. It is about understanding what is prompting or enabling choices – which in many instances are instinctive. I include brand associations and expectations here as brands act as ‘frames’ for choices. (Read Decoded by Phil Barden for more on brand influence). Some questions I often ask include:

a) What attributes, features, or formats are important in supporting selection of our product and service?

b) How do brand perceptions and expectations help or hinder choosing and purchasing?

c) Who are excluded or discouraged from participating or purchasing some or all of our products or services? 

d) What are the substitutes for our category or product range? What are the reasons for opting for / retaining alternatives?


Our decisions and behaviours will be different in different circumstances – as we are influenced by the environment, available options and by others. Again information in this area tends to be more limited, but my experience is that bringing to life the context in workshops can prompt new observations and ideas.  Some sample questions include:

a) How do the actions or opinions of experts, peers, colleagues or friends impact choosing and consumption?

b) What is the wider context for choosing and consumption.  How does our product/service contribute or combine with a bigger activity or process?

c) How do different channels impact expectations and purchasing?

d) How do investigation, repertoires and purchase decision-making vary by channel?

So, there you have it: my 5 C’s to consider to ensure your target consumer or customer insight is better able to ignite great ideas.

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