Yale Cites Wikipedia and More Insights

Fire up the grill, get your facepaint ready, and cancel all Saturday plans; college football is right around the corner. And what’s better than waking up to ESPN College GameDay? For many, even more than a game, college football is a celebration of tribal rituals. Among them is the careful crafting of witty team spirit posters, casting aspersions at the enemy. From Nick Saban Skips Leg Day to Harbaugh Wears Off-brand Khakis, the creativity and brutality never disappoints. Most ruthlessly savage of all was a sign that appeared before the 2014 Harvard vs. Yale game, which read Yale Cites Wikipedia. Adding injury to insult, Harvard went on to win by a touchdown. Sick burn.

Truth is, While Wikipedia might not hold up to academic-level scrutiny, it can be a valuable resource, especially for the casually curious learner. When it comes to new and evolving topics, Wikipedia is often a starting point for further research and understanding. This post delves into what has become something of an amorphous phrase: customer insight (aka customer insights aka consumer insights). Hopefully, this helps better define this emerging and valuable tool for businesses.

Enter “Customer insight” into Wikipedia and you find a relatively short post, originally published in 2008. About two dozen unique individuals have added to or modified the page in the years since. The article starts by defining Customer insight as “an interpretation of trends in human behaviors which aims to increase effectiveness of a product or service for the consumer, as well as increase sales for mutual benefit.”

The same entry posits, data and observations alone do not count as insights. They must conform to four criteria. First, they must be non-obvious. A sales spike on December 24 isn’t too interesting, but a sudden and seemingly random influx of male customers living in California could demand attention. Second, insights must be actionable. That is to say, executives must be able to make meaningful decisions that ultimately and directly impact customer demand and/or internal efficiencies (read increase revenue and/or decrease costs). Third, insights must lead to changes in behavior. And fourth, an insight should be mutually beneficial to companies and customers alike in order to create a sustainable relationship.

Again, a word of warning: these points were taken from Wikipedia, which is not necessarily—or anything close to being—the authority on the subject. Nevertheless, these points at least seem to be “not wrong,” meaning analyzing situations using them as a rubric might be useful.

Putting these points into practice, let’s see if we can come up with a hypothetical case study based on our college football theme. Every year, top programs in the nation sign multimillion dollar apparel deals with the likes of Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour. In the short run, these companies naturally expect fans to purchase team-branded gear. However, in the long run, retailers expect fans to develop emotional ties with their brand, thereby encouraging sales of all sorts of apparel and equipment. Measuring revenue based on geography seems the first step to determining the effectiveness of this strategy. But what would constitute an insight?

The most obvious, non-obvious observation falls into the realm of competitive analysis. Certainly, Nike wants to know how well Adidas is doing in markets where they are making major investments. But quantifying market share is a difficult task. As companies are getting a better hold on consumer data, they are unlocking insights explaining more about how their customers shop across a multitude of brands, including competitors. These might include shopping frequency, total annual spend by category, and even likely future purchases.

That means Nike can more accurately assess its own success while targeting customers with special offers and winback campaigns to earn more share of wallet. This scenario ticks off the boxes of the insight definition at hand. It is not obvious how well competitors are doing in various markets; knowing how Nike customers make purchase decisions allows for action in the form of targeted marketing; tailored messaging is likely to cause a change in behavior; and that change in behavior likely comes at the behest of some mutually beneficial offer, thereby establishing a sustainable relationship.

The California Golden Bears will kick off against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors on August 27. Well, sort of. The game is actually taking place in Sydney, Australia, which means kickoff in the US is August 26 (tonight!). So put another shrimp on that barbie and expect Nike and Under Armour to be paying close attention as they kick off their own season of defining and gathering customer insights.

And for the record, Harvard isn’t above using Wikipedia, if sparingly. The official Harvard Guide to Using Sources states, “Some instructors may advise their students to read entries for scientific concepts on Wikipedia as a way to begin understanding those concepts.”

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