Are Your Insights Interesting or Actionable?

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One Insight You Can Apply Right Away

Are Your Insights Interesting or Actionable?

“What is the business objective and who is the audience?” this is the question you should always ask before developing data insights.  This will help you figure out if you need to focus on interesting or actionable insights.

Media hypes Interesting Insights, insights that might not be actionable and valuable to the business. Your business stakeholders might prefer actionable insights over interesting ones. I said “might” because some business stakeholders (sometimes) will prefer Interesting even though they can’t do much with it, it just sounds good in their presentation.

Let’s look at an example of Interesting insights that get coverage in the media but might not be actionable.

Here is an excerpt from an old article: The Weather Channel’s Secret: Less Weather, More Clickbait

“We can tell you that on a January morning in Miami, if a set of weather conditions occurs, people will buy a certain brand of raspberry,” he says. Not just any fruit. Raspberries. When advertisers ask for an explanation—why raspberries?—[we] can’t always provide a clear answer. “A lot of times we have to tell them to just trust us.” Other times, he finds correlations that make perfect sense. “There’s a particular dew point percentage that makes everyone in Dallas rush out and buy bug spray,” he says. “We couldn’t figure out why, then we realized that insects’ eggs hatch at that dew point.” Basically, everyone in Dallas was getting bitten at once.

Great, very interesting insight but as a business what will you do with it?

If you are a grocery store in Miami then either you have raspberry in stock or not. If you have it then great, you don’t need those insights. If not then you can’t just go order your distributors to get you the Raspberries when those set of conditions happen.  Ordering takes time and so does shipping, by the time you get those raspberries in your store it is already too late.

Similarly in the second case, you can’t just go ahead and start stocking bug spray when the dew point hits a certain point. Either you have them in stock and you will sell them or you don’t have them then by the time you get that shipment, the dew point has already changed. Let’s assume that you can use advertising (mobile/online/social/TV) when the right conditions (dew point and other conditions) happen.  But, by the time the customer gets the message, those conditions are most likely already over, leaving your advertising worthless. But the media does not care about that, all they care about is more readership which comes when something is interesting.  In a nutshell, such insights are developed for media, if that’s your goal then sure go ahead and generate and publicize them.

Actionable insights on the other hand might not be as interesting to the outside world as they are to your business. These insights will certainly provide value to your business.  If you tell your stakeholders that customers buy notebooks in two weeks leading up to school opening (back to school) and buy calculators a week after school opens, then that is an insight you can use to drive more sales. You can plan your inventory and advertising based on school start dates. Media likely won’t talk about such insights but it is actionable and interesting (for the business).

So when coming up with insights always keep in mind the objective and your audience. Both interesting and actionable have their place but don’t confuse one for the other.

Note: I originally wrote this article in 2015 but it is still relevant so I decided to share it in this newsletter.

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Anil Batra,