In the last newsletter I introduced you to the iceberg model of meaning. A simple yet powerful framework that ultimately highlights the goal of anthropology in the context of research and innovation – helping us identify core beliefs.

This is a competency that is unique to the field of anthropology because no other form of research can really claim to understand what something truly means within a context, the way that anthropology can.

What do we mean by “core beliefs”?

Every trend has a handful of core beliefs that shape the consumer’s understanding of that trend. These core beliefs teach us about how the consumer makes sense of the trend and perhaps more importantly, how that trend might evolve with time.

To illustrate this further, let’s examine the trend of “skin wellness”.

Here’s an example of a dominant core belief shaping the consumer’s understanding of skin wellness.

Getting rid of pain (and toxins in the body) helps to address the root cause of unhealthy skin.

When we get to a core belief in this way, it forces us to begin our thinking with ‘the why’, which is important since in many ways it is the most difficult part of any type of research journey. But core beliefs do not sit in isolation. They always manifest in tangible ways in the form of ideas, actions, and opinions. In the example below, the core belief of connecting pain and toxins to skin health manifests in the form of seeking holistic treatments, hot and cold therapies, and lymphatic massages.

Now it’s important to note in this context that manifestations tend to change and evolve pretty quickly while core beliefs tend to remain steady and evolve gradually over time. So needless to say, core beliefs help give our plans clarity and ensure we avoid shiny-object-syndrome in our innovation and marketing efforts.

But, we all seek and naturally gravitate toward tangible ideas.

The human condition often creates a highly addictive bad habit. It makes us overvalue manifestations (of core beliefs) simply because they are tangible examples of things that we potentially could or should be doing in the marketplace. But the problem is that hanging our hat on existing manifestations leaves us extremely vulnerable to constant change and evolution in the marketplace. On the other hand, pinning our plans on a core belief gives us stability as an organization or a brand and it gives us the ability to look ahead and understand the evolution of our solutions with the natural progression of the core belief. It forces us to think about existing manifestations merely as inspiration and puts the onus on us (and our teams) to think about how we should show up with our products and our brands, to deliver against the consumer’s core beliefs.

Which is why the action plan framework below is an important step in the application of anthropology to research and innovation. It allows us to deliver all the rich insight (into existing manifestations) and then ask you to forget about all about them and simply focus your energy on figuring out how your product and brand can service the consumer’s core beliefs.

[Note: in the example below, core beliefs are listed in order from least mature/pre-mainstream on the left to mainstream acceptance on the right. For the sake of simplicity, we’re only going to look at the last two columns – the most mature core beliefs in the context of skin wellness.]

In the above example, the organization immediately realizes that they are currently underserving the “Pain/Toxin” core belief. Even though they have plans to address the space in the future, they are not showing up in any tangible way at the present time and as a result losing out on the opportunity to shape the space to their competitive benefit.

They also reached a similar conclusion on the last core belief, where the brand was absent and thereby losing value in the evolving market.

Why these frameworks matter?

Insights are only as valuable as the results they drive. And the process of taking insights into action is a design problem, that many organizations struggle with. One of the biggest reasons people feel stuck with insight is because they do not know what to do next. Frameworks and models like these help resolve the inertia. They provide a clear line of sight on next steps, and give insights leaders clarity on what messages and ideas to focus on when moving the results through the organization.

What do you want to research today?