As we quickly approach the advent of Innovate Carolina 2015, it’s time to start thinking about consumer insights! But insight into what? At one end of insights are consumer behavior data, trends based on demographics, purchasing habits, etc.. Everyone has access to data, it’s easily purchased along with trending reports and analysis – which might explain why we get such great prices on all the commodity products produced by companies deriving the same insights from the same sources.

You might think I’m downplaying the value of consumer insights data. I’m not. I’m a big believer in data. But I’m also a believer in the whole picture, combining the data insights with insights into the human behind the data – their real situation, personality and passions. Deep personal insight is hard to get. You have to interview people. It takes time, effort, scheduling, deep thought, preparation and personal travel. You have to sit across from someone and look them in the eyes, listen, empathize and, yes, care about what they say, even if it’s not something you want to hear. Perhaps this is why so few companies really take it on.

They used to. Craftsman came to your home or you went to their shop…they were a part of your community. You met them and they met you. They looked you in the eye, promised the result of their craft, shook your hand and served your needs. They showed the result of their work and cared for your attitude. Few craftsmen ever uttered the phrase “I’m sorry for any inconvenience you may have experienced.”

Demographics/consumer data can tell you my age, ethnicity, income range, home size, purchasing patterns and even if I’m pregnant..err, well, you know what I mean. What it can’t tell you are the dreams I have for my kids, the frustrations and barriers that sit between me and my personal goals, what I still strive to accomplish and the passions that drive many of the things that I do. It cannot explain emotion, persistence, despair, joy or fear. Those come from asking and listening, ferreting out the past and plowing through the automaton state in which so many exist today. You have to take them back to when they were fired up, passionate and driven to accomplish – understand their road, how it changed and how much they have left in the tank.

That’s why I’m excited for you to attend Innovate Carolina 2015. After the keynote and the resulting sessions, you’ll have a narrative and glimpse into the lives of the consumers to whom you are trying to sell. You’ll understand a piece of their path. You’ll feel the state they’re in as they get in their car after another long day of work, deliver their children to different daily activities, fix dinner, put the kids down and head to the store in search of something that will truly improve their quality of life. Will they find it? Or will their purchase result in another call to a nameless customer service department only to hear “I’m sorry for your inconvenience…”

Use the data available to you, but don’t forget to search for the human side of those you attempt to serve as well.

Innovate Carolina 2015 is Friday, April 24th!  I would encourage you to listen deeply, be introspective and honest with yourself. Be challenged. Be provoked. But most of all, I hope you’ll be present. What happens on the 25th will be up to you…