Are you using real insights in your decision-making?

As a brand and marketing insight strategist I hear the word “Insight” being bandied about to the point where it has become one of the most overused – and alas – misunderstood words in marketing today. However, “insights” have never been more important to businesses and marketeers than ever before, in order to unlock new or real growth in ever competitive environments. As such, companies are demanding that “insights” be placed at the heart of decision-making, so it is important to make sure that what you think is an insight is, in fact, just that.

In a world where data is taking centre stage more and more, I often hear clients say things like “we are drowning in data; how do we unlock the insights from all this data we hold?”. But being data-rich does not mean you are insight-rich, as insights are not necessarily intrinsically linked to data. It is of course true that the ongoing explosion of data is providing us with more and more knowledge; in fact, more than we have ever had before. The trick is knowing how to use it in order to turn this knowledge into insight.

That said, data is just one part of the puzzle, and not always a source of insights. Much of the work I do is talking to (or observing) consumers directly in order to unearth insights. However, this comes with its own set of challenges, as consumers are often unable to articulate their needs as many of these are latent. In addition, if you are operating in a category which can be considered ‘low interest’ from the consumer point of view, these can be even harder to articulate… and ergo, unearthing the insight that sits at the heart of these consumer needs is harder.

It doesn’t matter what your source or data points are when seeking insights. What is important is that you need to understand what an insight is and – more importantly – what is not.

An insight is not an “observation” or the “reportage” of what has been seen or heard (qualitatively or quantitively). Observations are an extremely important part of creating or earthing an insight, but they should be treated as just one data point to consider… and they should never stand alone. That is because rigour is required for meaningful insight generation to happen. Meaningful insights are usually “powerful insights” which can unlock competitive advantage and drive growth. It is true that they are hard to find, but when you do, they can be extremely valuable.

In order to define an insight, you must take a multi-dimensional view. You need to unpack the “why” and or the “motivation” behind the observations, which sit behind a consumer’s behaviour or what they have said (qualitatively or quantitively).

Real insights don’t come from the consumer alone: they should be framed within the context of the marketing challenge, the competitive context and the company/brand capabilities. In order to do this, an insights framework is required to inject discipline and structure into their creation. There are plenty of definitions as to what an insight is (far too many to go into detail here), so what marketeers need to do is to work in collaboration with their key agencies to define their process of insight definition based on the business or marketing impact they want to drive within their own business or with a given campaign, for example.

But to get the ball rolling, here are some simple guardrails you can use to stress-test if you have a meaningful insight or not:

  • It should be anchored in a fundamental human truth
  • It should be a powerful observation about human behaviour or attitudes that prompts you to view the consumers from a fresh perspective
  • It should inform a new way of viewing the category/consumer/product in a way that causes you to re-examine existing conventions and challenge the status quo
  • It should be a previously unrecognised facet about the underlying motivations that drive people’s actions / behaviours or attitudes

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