The amount of information and analytics provided by today’s digital and social media is overwhelming. To make sense of it all, companies must gain insights, knowledge of what consumers think and feel and what motivates them. In Getting to Aha!, Darshan Mehta explores the nature of insights, what they are, how to uncover them, and how to use them to drive innovation and audience engagement.

He surveys the trends driving modern consumer’s behaviors, and discusses how technology is shaping the way buyers interact with brands, and directly impact their performance. He also shares the steps brands can take to access and leverage the knowledge gained from external and internal audiences alike. Whether you’re CMO, a brand manager, or an entrepreneur, Darshan provides theoretical wisdom and practical tips that are ready to be put to use today in order to give your business the competitive edge it needs.

Welcome to the Author Hour, I’m your host Benji Block and today I’m honored to be joined by Darshan Mehta. He is the author of a new book titled, Getting to Aha!: Why Today’s Insights Are Tomorrow’s Facts. Darshan, welcome to the Author Hour Podcast, and thanks for joining us here today.

Darshan Mehta: Thank you, Benji, look forward to our conversation.

Benji Block: Absolutely. Darshan, can you give us just a brief overview for listeners that aren’t familiar with your background? Tell us a little bit about yourself?

Darshan Mehta: Sure. I was actually born in India and I came to the US when I was four years old, so I’ve grown up pretty much in America. I’ve been fortunate, I came from an entrepreneurial household. My dad was an entrepreneur and in college, I really loved case studies. So when I graduated, I really liked working on solving problems and one of the areas I started getting into was branding advertising.

I like the combination of consumer behavior aspects of it but also just trying to find out what the real key motivators and triggers are to get people to actually act or do something. As a result of that, I was one of the first ones to do online surveys and focus groups back in 1996, 1998.

Since then I’ve been doing that and helping clients. Luckily, it’s taken me to different countries and different industries and stuff so it’s been quite interesting.

Benji Block: What was your main goal in writing this book and why was now the right time to take on a project like this?

Darshan Mehta: It’s something that’s been floating around in my head and after doing this for almost 20 years of consulting, you start seeing patterns, just like you do in consumer behavior or in market research. A pattern I’ve seen a lot of people do, and I think it’s become even more so now with so much big data and an emphasis on analytics and the ability to get so much information, that people are still looking for the “why.”

But they are still not able to get to the why because they’re still looking at using methodologies to get at the “how” or “how many”. Part of the reason is it’s been so expensive to get at the why— which is basically qualitative or having conversations.

That’s one of the things I’m looking to change with my platform and my research. But I also felt a bigger picture than that was something I think people are lacking nowadays, which is having enough conversations. People think, “Well, we don’t need to have as many conversations. We have all this data and all these analytics.” But the thing is, that only tells you what people have done. It doesn’t get at the underlying reasons as to why they do what they’re doing.

I think you need the combination of both to be able to get at the “why”. I just truly believe that there are insights all around us— and I’ve seen this helping clients and brands throughout the years— there are just insights all around you, if I had to visualize, kind of laying around. How do you tap into those insights? I would say, the number one way to do that is really to have more conversations.

What Are Insights and How Can I Apply Them To My Business?

Benji Block: Yeah, conversation is key. Who are you imagining reading this book as you’re working on it? Who is your ideal reader?

Darshan Mehta: There’s several but I think someone that could really benefit, are startups. Because one of the first things you’re trying to get at is product-market fit. In other words, does my product fit the marketplace in the sense— is there someone willing to pay for the solution I’m offering?

Sometimes, that takes a while to get to because sometimes a product’s inception comes from an engineering background of solving a problem. But the person doing it has an engineering background— and I have nothing against engineers or marketers— sometimes, they may not have the market focus. Oftentimes, startups then go into the market, and then they realize they need to pivot or adjust because now they’re getting the perspective of the customer. Having more conversations and using tools that are out there can expedite that process and you can do it sooner.

The one thing that’s happening with all this digital world and social media and all that, it’s no longer a question of “Are you going to get feedback from your customer, or do you have to go out and seek it yourself?” You’re going to get feedback no matter what you do because people are going to make comments on social media about products and services. Your choice now is really pretty simple.

Do you want to get feedback sooner, or later? I would advocate that if you can do it sooner, in a more cost-effective manner, quickly and easily, it’s going to serve you better. You can maybe get to those pivot points, whatever you need, sooner. And it’s also going to continue your ability to continue innovating.

Benji Block: Yeah, these insights are so key and everyone should be seeking insights, especially obviously in the startup world. It’s hard to agree on what insights actually are, and so much of your book is about that— what are insights, and then how do we apply them to our businesses. Can you define insights for us? Give us a foundation for the rest of our conversation here?

Darshan Mehta: Sure. I think oftentimes, people view insights as facts or observations, and they are part of the bigger picture, but there’s more to that. Because it’s a combination of micro things and macro. Also, we’re a part of societal trends, changes and flows, and also technological. Then you have this major event like COVID-19, which totally alters many things, right?

All those things are going to drive, going to motivate, and help people make decisions about purchases, ranging from buying products to actually making job decisions. I think the best way to talk about an insight is to give you an example, and I would say that really good comedians are often the best at giving insights.

How many times have you been in a position you’re listening to the comedian and you say, “Oh my god, that’s absolutely true and it’s so funny but it’s so true.

Benji Block: Yup.

Darshan Mehta: That’s the insight. That’s because they’re combining an observation and a scenario, and then tying it back to human behavior, to a point that you can then identify with that situation. Because now that you put it in a funny context, you said, “My God, that is so true, it absolutely happens.” And it’s something that you hadn’t maybe articulated or thought about, but once it’s articulated and thought about, it’s like yup, that’s it. Yeah, totally makes sense.

Benji Block: Yeah, you can’t un-see it.

Darshan Mehta: Right.

Creating Aha! Moments

Benji Block: You say that there’s three ingredients of an insight and they’re empathy, curiosity, and vision. How do you see those ingredients working together and creating these aha moments, these ingredients of insight?

Darshan Mehta: Well, you really do need empathy because, oftentimes, we all get focused on what it is we want or need, or what we’re trying to promote about our product or our brand. But ultimately, it’s not the facts that matter, it’s the perception that your customers or your audience has about you and your product. That’s what’s going to matter.

One of the ways to do that is to have empathy. And also, when you’re having conversations, it’s just not about talking to the audience, it’s actually listening to them, right? Listening so that you actually can understand what their pains and triggers are. Because, even when you have this conversation, it takes a little while to really get deep into a topic or an area where you actually find out what’s really going on.

People might tell you some things initially but you have to listen carefully, and then you have to probe a little bit more. And that’s where the curiosity comes in, right? You have to say, “Okay, I see what they’re saying, but now let me ask them some more questions to get a better 360 perspective of the pain they’re trying to describe. What other solutions have they tried and it’s not worked?” Things like that. That has to be part of your overall vision, as to where you want to take your brand and your product as well.

That’s why you need all three. I’m not saying those are the only exclusive things but if you can have those three, they’re good cornerstones and pillars to get at insights.

Benji Block: You mentioned earlier the power of conversations, and conversations, sort of, breed empathy. I think that’s part of the difficulty right now, in the way that we can get lost in the numbers and the stats and the large scale of all the information that we have access to, but when you do bring it down to what you’re talking about and what you’re so passionate about, these conversations— focus group type environments— those conversations breed a lot more empathy than just looking maybe at stats on a piece of paper.

Darshan Mehta: Absolutely. You have stats and what people have done, but to really find out what got them to do that, you really have to have conversations with people. That often can turn up other opportunities of other pain points and things that are still maybe not being addressed, that you might be able to take advantage of.

Benji Block: You say insight seekers can play defense or offense. You speak to both in the book and I’d like to focus on the offense for a second. You say that they are unconcerned with preserving the status quo or protecting their current interest, rather they are bent on solving vexing problems. What does it look like for an entrepreneur, for someone leading an organization to play offense in seeking out insights?

Darshan Mehta: Sure. For example, Patagonia is really started by someone who just was an avid explorer, liked to go on adventures and tracking, but none of the stuff that was out there fit his needs. He just thought it all sucked, and so he basically said, “You know, I am just going to do this better.” and that was a super fan that decided to do it and just make it better. That’s the kind of visionary person that can have at the helm.

That can really help but at some point, they still need to make sure they can still bring in a broader audience to make sure their product can sustain itself. That is kind of playing the offense, but you have to also be able to question yourself, and— I’ll listen to others— and willing to improve what you initially are thinking as well.

Benji Block: Do you think that attribute can be learned or fostered? Because clearly, that is a spirit that can be baked in. Sometimes it’s baked into the CEO, this sort of offensive posture and looking to change things, but a culture that may already be defined may struggle some of that. There’s limitless examples, Blockbuster would be one. But how do you teach that? How do you lean into playing offense?

Darshan Mehta: I think some people do have it naturally— others may not— but I think it’s something that if you’re really wanted to internally become better at it, you could. It just would require more practice, especially if you’re not good at it naturally. But it shouldn’t be that difficult in the end because, really, what we’re talking about is just learning to listen and trying to understand what is it people are really saying. Because sometimes people aren’t the best communicators, so you have to ask in many different ways to really get the heart of what you’re saying.

Really, what you are trying to do is tap into people’s subconscious. Because that’s what really drives 95% of what we’re ultimately making decisions on, is what we think subconsciously. Our mind and our senses process lots of information from what the people are saying to how they’re saying it, their tone of voice, the modulation – all of those things get it the underline where we perceive as thoughts, emotions, all those things.

Sure, if you are not good at it naturally, it is going to take some practice but it is not something that you couldn’t do.

Challenge Your Comfortability By Becoming Your Worst Competitor

Benji Block: I love to hear you speak to and give an example of companies who need insights but maybe fail to seek them out or implement them, a story or an example, any learnings that you found or would highlight?

Darshan Mehta: I think that’s the real challenge, is that we often— I think a lot of companies have a very successful product and they have an entrenched user base and everything, maybe even three-quarters of the market share, right? You start saying, “Well, we’re pretty comfortable” but that’s usually at the beginning of maybe something else that’s going to come around. I think one of the best ways is to become your worst competitor.

An example of this would be, Gillette, that basically kept innovating blades. One blade to two blades to five, and that was the innovation. Then innovations with making vibrating or having lights. Those were iterations of the product, but what also happened as a result of those innovations and those additions – it increased the cost of the product, and that ultimately led to changing the experience from a buyer’s perspective.

When you had to go buy a razor as a man, you’d have to actually go to the clerk and have them come open the locked cabinet to be able to get to the razor. It took away from the experience, and what this did was— they’ve cornered maybe 72% of the marketplace— it created an opportunity for a startup to come in and say, “You know, the experience I am having and the price I’m paying is just not worth it. I’m going to come up with a better buyer experience, to the point where the blades will cost less, but in fact, they will cost less, and then I think people are willing to subscribe to it and just get them delivered.” And then they followed that with additional information and knowledge.

So that is an example of, basically, you can get very comfortable with your market share and your success, but you have to know that there’s constant innovation that’s going to happen. Your choice is, do you want to control the innovation? In other words, you can control what you can innovate but you also have to question everything you’re doing.

Maybe, we’ve got all of this innovation with blades and razors and all of this, and we have great manufacturing capabilities and distribution, but what about the experience the customer is having? I recognize it in the book and I talk about it.

In today’s economy and today’s world, there’s so many competitive products and services. People now are going beyond just the product and service, and they’re actually looking for the whole experience that is around the product and service as a result. I think people are actually buying more experiences than just products or services.

Benji Block: Absolutely, extremely easy to see, then once you’ve seen it once, you can see it all over the place. We are always seeking out experiences, and one of the great examples you also give in the book is Starbucks. Back in 2007 Howard Schultz comes back in, he fires the CEO, and I thought that was a great example from a company that was so established. Instead of seeing another company doing it, he chose to come back in and actually change their culture so that he could bring back customer experience to the forefront.

That was a good example because then— it’s also in the long run— he brings it back and they don’t lose out to someone else. He is able to re-establish and bring vision back to the forefront.

Darshan Mehta: Right.

Benji Block: That was such a key learning.

Darshan Mehta: He also adapted it to the new environment that he’s working in as well. It wasn’t exactly the way it was before. We want to protect what we’ve created because we have success with it, but the ultimate control you have is, you can become your biggest competitor. So that way, you can control the cannibalization, as opposed to a competitor coming and taking away market share.

People are looking for three things, right? They’re looking to save time, money, and make things easier. Then there’s a 4th element I would say, is also emotion. Keep an eye on those things, look at your products and service and see what you can do to optimize them. I think that will help you to continue to innovate and seek insights.

Benji Block: As consumers do have, like you were just saying, have more options, less time, you do talk about this idea of basically blending things. You provide this helpful question, saying “What products, services or experiences can I combine to deliver an elevated or more valuable version?” How do you see blended offerings impacting the market right now? They truly are everywhere once you start looking and thinking about it.

Darshan Mehta: Yeah, and that is an area of innovation. If you can combine two things it makes something even more engaging, tastier, and interesting. I mean, for example, Taco Bell and Doritos. It’s like a natural— but no one had thought of that, and then they had an insight. Now, I don’t know how much of that was based on research, but they had that insight and they said— it was one of the most successful new product launches ever. Once it came out, it is just like, “Oh yeah, that is obvious.”

I think this is happening because 1. our world is becoming more and more connected so you are seeing things in other parts of the world and you say, “Oh, that would be interesting. Let me combine this and that.” But if you think about it, it happened years ago as well, and there’s a famous advertisement with Reese’s peanut butter cups, right? Combining chocolate and peanut butter did well for them.

There’s always been opportunities to blend but I think part of that is that scenario of innovation people are exploring a little bit more now because they’re seeing there’s some unique possibilities.

Benji Block: As we start to wrap up, the push that you provide readers is to keep insights at the forefront of the strategic planning and decision making. How have you personally trained your eye, maybe manipulated your calendar, to be looking for these insights and engaging in these “aha moments”, these conversations? Any practical tips or tools to start to look for those insights more or where to find them?

Darshan Mehta: Yeah, I try a few daily things myself. For example, you know instead of going from point A to point B and always the same route, I’ll go a different route. Why? It’s because it just heightens my curiosity, right? I am trying to observe what’s new in this area or what is new in this path. It just keeps your senses heightened to new [and different] things. So, you can observe and see things and then see, maybe, what are trends that are going on that are driving some of that.

The other thing I do is when I have conversations with people and especially people I’ve just met, I try to create a win-win situation. In other words, if I can at least engage with them and bring a smile to their face and my face, in order to do that, it incorporates a lot of things in communication— empathy, listening, observation and conversation, right? If you can do that, you create a win-win. And why not, right? I mean life is too short anyway so we might as well have a little bit of fun. Those are just things that you could try to do to try to keep honing your skills and stay on top of that.

Benji Block: Darshan, it’s been great to chat with you about your book. I am excited for people to have this resource. If people want to connect with you further, where else could they reach out and stay connected?

Darshan Mehta: They’re welcome to reach out to me directly at [email protected] as well as go to the website, as well.

Benji Block: Well, thanks so much for taking time today to speak with us on Author Hour, and best wishes as this resource gets out into the world.

Darshan Mehta: Thank you, Benji. It was great talking to you.