The changing role of cultural insight

Last week, Truth dedicated an evening to discussing the changing role of cultural insight in the world of research and marketing. In order to hear about the latest developments in this space, we invited the shortlisted entries for the MRS Virginia Valentine Award 2012 to showcase their work. The award is named in honour of the legacy of the famous Semiotician Virginia ‘Ginny’ Valentine who pioneered the application of the complex, academic discipline of semiotics into the commercial world of marketing and brands in the 80s and 90s. As a result of her revolutionary work, cultural insight is now shaping the research and marketing worlds.

The case studies presented were diverse, but all equally thought-provoking. They showed the variety of things a researcher will do to get to brilliant cultural insights: Sometimes this might be as glamorous and exciting as travelling around the world talking to trendsetting fashionistas and hairstylists and visiting the places where trends are born in order to better understand the future of hair care. Or, the work of the researcher might consist of seemingly endless days of sitting in a care home, patiently observing a group of dementia patients who spend their days quietly sipping tea in armchairs in front of the TV, in order to understand how their lives could be made happier.

What also emerged from the case studies was how cultural insight can have the power to change the brands and businesses involved. It achieves this by uncovering the things that consumers are unable to articulate – therefore getting beyond the obvious and helping us to see things differently.

However, it also became clear that generating great insights is not enough – insights must come with the rights tools, stories, or experiences to help them live and breathe new life into an organisation. This could be something immersive, such as taking clients on a journey or an experience that brings the research to life and gets everyone away from their desks for an afternoon. Or, it could be something technological such as building an interactive online portal or a tool. Or, it could just be something as timeless and simple as great storytelling; presenting key findings, stories or anecdotes that live on and are retold over and over again.

Ella is an Associate Partner at Truth and has a keen interest in cultural insight.