Soap, Sex and other Edgy Insights

Last week I wrote a post for the BC American Marketing Association titled, 'Soap, Sex and other Edgy Insights'. The post explored the the value of insights that may, at first, seem a little strange.

A few years ago I worked on a research and strategy project for one of the world’s largest soap manufacturers. One particular interview from that study has stuck in my mind. It started simply enough - a young woman describing the drama of her life and how showering seemed to fit in. She described the way it felt when you rub soap over your skin in the morning, and the sense of satisfaction a late night shower delivers; washing away a drunken night on the town.

And then, unexpectedly, she leaned a little closer and let out a secret.
“You know” she said, “I like to put bars of soap in the drawer with my panties. They smell nicer that way.”

Now what do you do with an insight like that?

Sticking with sanity

As marketers and market researchers, we tend to like rational results; answers that can be easily explained. People want lower prices. Product quality is important. Customer service is essential. When we’re faced with insights that seem strange, or don’t fit with our existing ideas, the natural reaction may be to dismiss them or label them as fringe.

According to
Prof. Zaltman
from Harvard University, “over 80% of all market research serves mainly to reinforce existing conclusions, not to test or develop new possibilities.” The implication from this finding is simple. In an attempt to play it safe and deliver what is expected, marketers may be missing out on some of their biggest opportunities.

Exploring edgy insights

When archaeologists are interested in understanding a culture, they often move beyond the palaces and places of worship, and turn their
attention to the trash. It can be messy work, but hidden amongst the shards of bone and broken pots exist some deep insights into everyday life.

The same is true for market researchers. To get to the heart of what motivates people, we often need to go beyond obvious answers and start digging amongst the
‘mental mess’. For example, in morphological research,
we’re encouraged to assume the presence of ‘meaningful Gestalten’ even when things initially appear to make no sense. Simply put, we don’t dismiss anything. Instead, we assume all insights may be part of a 'meaningful pattern of motivation' and we keep digging.

Why marketing success involves edgy insights

All of this brings me back to the start of this post, and one woman’s soapy secret. As market researchers, we were faced with an insight that didn’t initially make sense. But we dug deeper, and came to understand that soap motivations extend far beyond quality and price.

How we wash is heavily influenced by social norms, sexuality and our state of mind. We found that opportunities for soap go beyond moisturizing methods, touching topics like body image (think
Dove), sexual angst and exploration (think Axe) and how washing can help create a mental transformation (think Original Source

So how did we deal with that particular soapy secret? We kept digging. And in doing so, we began to uncover much deeper and more exciting market opportunities.