The power of human truths: A new era in consumer understanding

May 31, 2024

Picture this: You're a busy mom, rushing to get your kids ready for school in the morning. You're trying your best to give them a balanced breakfast, but it's chaotic and you're feeling like you're falling short. Suddenly, a brand comes along and says, "Hey, we see you struggling. Buy our product and we'll solve all your problems!"

How would you feel? Insulted? Misunderstood? Like the brand just doesn't get you?

This is where human truths come in.

Sylvestre and Co. President and Chief Insights Seeker Isabelle Landreville shared this story to illustrate the difference between surface-level consumer insights and deeper human truths. While the brand in this example might have identified a real challenge moms face, their approach missed the mark. They failed to understand the complex emotions and realities of motherhood, coming across as tone-deaf and insensitive.

And that's the power of human truths. In a world where consumers are increasingly seeking authenticity and meaning from brands, understanding people on a profound level is no longer a nice-to-have - it's a necessity.

As Isabelle puts it, "Human truth is the new consumer insight." It's about seeing people not just as data points or target markets, but as multi-faceted individuals with unique stories, challenges, and aspirations.

Let's dive into what human truths are, why they matter, and how businesses can uncover and apply them to forge deeper, more resonant connections with the people they serve. Welcome to the new era of consumer understanding.

What are human truths?

Human truth is an idea that's getting more attention in the world of consumer research and marketing. It's about seeing people as more than just consumers or users. It's about understanding the complex things that drive what they do and what they choose.

"Human truth is the new consumer insight," said Isabelle.

In the past, the focus was on finding consumer insights - those moments that help explain why people make certain choices. But human truth goes beyond that. It looks at the bigger picture of people's lives and experiences.

"Finding a human truth is one thing, using it and making sure as a brand you have permission to use it is another," says Isabelle. "You need a human truth. And then you need brand insights."

In other words, finding a human truth is just the start. Companies also need to understand how their brand fits in. They need to know if they have the credibility to talk about that truth in a way that makes sense to people.

Human truth examples

One business that used a human truth well recognized that its industry is complicated and people are tired spending so much time to get anything done. The company's response was to make things simpler.

As Isabelle explains, "This company did a great job. The human insight is that this industry is complex. And then what they did is say, 'Well, we make it simple.' and they showed that off in creative ways."

But not every attempt to use a human truth works.  

"I've seen stuff that says, 'You're such a busy mom, it's chaotic, and you're failing because you can't get a balanced meal for your kids. We as Brand X will fix that for you.' But that comes across as insulting. It's like saying, 'You're a bad mom. How dare you.'"

Here, even though the brand saw a real human truth - the pressures moms face - their approach was off-putting rather than helpful. It shows that how a company talks about and acts on a human truth is just as important as the truth itself.

Why the shift to human truths matters

Moving from consumer insights to human truths reflects bigger cultural changes.

"There's a huge demand for authenticity and transparency these days," says Isabelle. "Seeing people as more than just consumers or users is a big deal."

It also opens up exciting new possibilities for research and marketing.

Isabelle explains, "It makes our industry so much richer and more exciting. You've got social sciences, psychology, neuroscience, behavioral science. Our playground is so much bigger now. It makes the job more complex, but also way more interesting."

But this broader view also needs different approaches. The usual research methods may not be enough to really understand why people do what they do.

"If you want to know why someone does something and find the human truth, you can't just look at their actions," advises Isabelle. "You have to look at their motivations, the context, and what it means to them. Then you can factor in the behavior."

She stresses how important qualitative research is for getting to those deeper whys. But she also notes that qualitative and quantitative methods work best together. Numbers give you the what, but stories give you the why. You need both to get the full picture.

The role of technology and AI

With technology moving so fast, it's natural to wonder if AI could help find human truths. While AI can be a powerful tool, Isabelle says it has limits in this area.

"I don't think AI is there yet for finding human truths," she says. "AI is really good at summarizing answers to specific questions. It's great at pulling together people's feedback and opinions."

But when it comes to deeply understanding someone and all the complex things that shape them, AI falls short. There are too many subtle things that current AI can't quite grasp or explain.

"Getting to know someone's deep connections and relationships over time involves complex frameworks and analysis," explains Isabelle. "AI can pull things together and find things, but it can't uncover new things."

In other words, AI might be able to see patterns and themes, but it can't have those moments that define real insight and human understanding. For that, there's still no substitute for curious and caring human researchers.

Putting human truths into practice

For companies, human truths are valuable because they can inspire products, services, and marketing that resonate with people. But finding a real human truth is just the first step. Acting on it takes careful thought.

Not every brand has permission to get involved in every part of people's lives. A snack brand trying to address the challenges of motherhood might come across as fake or even insulting. But a brand that's built trust in that space could potentially play a meaningful role.

It's also important to let human truths guide new ideas rather than trying to force-fit them after the fact.

Finally, finding and acting on human truths takes real commitment. It's not just about saying you care about consumers, but doing the work to understand people deeply and shaping every part of the business to meet their real needs.

Sparking more authentic connections

At its heart, the shift towards human truths is about seeing and relating to people in a more authentic, well-rounded way. It's a recognition that people aren't just data points, but complex individuals shaped by their experiences, beliefs, feelings, and situations.

While traditional consumer insights focused more narrowly on how people interact with a particular product or category, human truths give a more complete view. This bigger-picture perspective gives companies richer insight to draw from as they try to innovate and communicate in ways that click with people.

Done well, this approach can forge deeper, more genuine connections between people and brands. In a world that's increasingly skeptical of companies, coming from a place of real human understanding is becoming a key way to stand out.

As Isabelle puts it, "If you understand people not just as consumers, but as people, it opens up so many more ways to connect."

The bar is higher now, but so is the potential. Companies that commit to uncovering and thoughtfully acting on human truths are in a position to build lasting bonds with the people they serve. And in an ever-more competitive world, those are the connections that matter.

What questions do you have about human truths? Ask them here.