insight written on a torn paper
Written by Jane Stacey,
March 31st, 2021 | Category Management

Stop looking for the killer insight

Insight can be many things. For some, it’s a department buried deep within a business. If you’re lucky it’s the hub that drives a culture of new ideas. Willy Wonka’s secret lab where the unbelievable or unknown are whipped into a deliciously warm bar of ‘oooooh, that’s interesting!’

Most likely it’s another string to the bow of the Category Management team. This can sometimes mean that the development of ‘insight’ becomes more of a production line of samey content. You may not have the engaging story you want to wow your business or your buyer with, but it’s a task ticked off the never-ending round of requests.

There are two things that you can do to find your insight flow:

  1. Make time to look around you. Understand your shopper and the other categories they buy. Talk to the other teams in your business or ask questions when you get time with your buyer. Understand what interests them, what they don’t know, what’s keeping them up at night
  2. Understand what Insight is. Simply put, it’s understanding something. As a Category Manager, you know more than most people about your category and the shopper, sharing your understanding will help determine what you do about it.


Make time to look around you

Often we start with a hypothesis. We’re busy and sometimes (yes, even the best of us) lazy.

But digging in the same holes over and over is not where you’ll find that nugget of Insight. Raising your gaze to what’s happening in other categories can help contextualise the things that you’re seeing in your own category. Is this change part of a wider macro trend? Is something happening in other areas of the store that you’re not seeing in your category?

Should you be?

I really do believe the skill of improvisation is essential to a Category Manager (read more about that in this blog post)One of the many things it can teach you is the power of emergence. When you have no designated destination for your curiosity journey, you take in so much more of the scenery; and that scenery could be Insight gold. The thing right under your nose that you hadn’t noticed before, the thing that everyone else has rushed past in the race to find the impressive ‘so what’ that they’ve already decided on… and drafted the straw man presentation for.


Understand what insight is

Insight is the alchemy of data, knowledge, instinct and imagination. Imagination comes down to 2 things. Curiosity – (why is that?) and Wonder (what could be possible). Insight comes from that tickle in your brain that says ‘Isn’t it interesting that…’

We can get hung up on trying to find the Killer Insight. Waiting for that blinding ‘aha’ moment that will shift the axis of the Retail world. This probably happens once a decade and is far more likely to be hard won and have taken a lot of effort to extract.

Have you ever thought that Insight is actually something really obvious to you? Take the pressure off yourself to uncover the killer insight and accept that finding something interesting is just as useful.


We are often so intimate with our data that we don’t realise what others don’t know

It’s easy to get caught up in the data you don’t have, but going through an exercise of gathering what you DO know will highlight lots of things you’d forgotten about, or had overlooked. It’s an exercise you can do on your own or get together with your team and brainstorm all the ‘stuff’ you know. You’ll be amazed at the amount of buried treasure you find, and best of all, it’s free!

Something else that’s free is getting out into the real world. The SO WHAT and the WHAT NOW will be driven by behaviour, not numbers. Understanding shopper behaviour and putting the person into the numbers will help you to find and craft the actionable insight. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: be where your shoppers are.


“What’s the So What?” is the lament of many a frustrated Leader

If you’re not familiar with Professor Gary Rolfe and his colleagues, I’m sure you know his work. Originally designed for Nurses, Rolfe et al’s Reflective Model framework focuses on three questions:

  • WHAT?
  • SO WHAT?

There are several other models that help with reflection, but this is the one that has translated into the Category Manager’s common lexicon. For me, this almost reflects 3 levels of capability within Category Management and allows you to uncover an insight and most importantly, make it actionable.

WHAT has happened is the most basic but crucial element. Understanding what happened to your sales, share of trade, distribution changes. This is looking at the landscape and ensuring everyone in the business knows where they are on the map.

SO WHAT tells you what this means, it’s the interpretation of the situation and the layering of information into a context. The WHAT is your reporting suite, the SO WHAT is the story. It’s one thing to know where you are, it’s another to understand what this means. (Have we got a problem? Is something changing, do we benefit?)

NOW WHAT is the bit we can sometimes forget and it’s the bit most businesses are crying out for. It can be easy to fall into the belief that the leaders in our businesses and the customers we work with are much smarter than we are. That may be true, and even if it is, they’re often over stretched and under pressure and are constantly wrestling with the question of ‘What should we do?’ A thorough understanding of the situation and implications becomes the killer insight when you marry it to a recommendation for action.

Think of it this way. “Here’s some charts that tell you what happened to your business last month and here’s some commentary telling you what’s in the charts”; isn’t going to get results with anyone.

You’ll know you’ve struck gold when you get the shift in the seat, the move forward or the flinging open of arms to take more in. Conversely, if you’ve dug up a turd you’ll see it written on your audience’s faces. Don’t worry, this is only likely if you’ve fallen back into the trap of commentating the chart.

Insight is about connecting what you have in new ways or lifting your eyes to look around you to connect it to something new. It’s as much imagination as it is having the facts. The small and seemingly mundane just might contain fairy dust.

So stop looking for the killer insight. It rarely exists and it’s not what or where you think it is.

You already know loads. You just need to do something with it.