How to Spot a Great Insight

Developing a deep understanding of consumer behaviour is one of the most important tasks a marketer can bring to an organisation. We’re always on the look out for that big, fresh insight that can unlock growth. Whole departments have been set up to generate insights. We go on training courses. We attend conferences. We learn the lingo.

But still, the biggest challenge we face is knowing when we’ve spotted a great insight. I’ve delivered many insight training programmes and brand positioning projects and there’s always this agonising debate. Is that really THE insight we want to focus on? Is it unique enough? Is it strong enough?

There are 3 key reasons why it’s so difficult.

Firstly, we idolise insights. We treat them as rarities. Like nuggets of gold in the dirt. Therefore when we do feel we’ve spotted one, we doubt ourselves. Is that really an insight? Is this short pithy sentence the culmination of all my work and my best thinking? Is it too obvious? No matter how hard we work, we doubt whether it’s good enough.

A second reason is our desire to find something unique. We challenge ourselves to find something undiscovered. Something our rivals have never seen before. Most major business categories have been analysed to death. It’s a nigh on impossible task. Like ideas, nothing will be truly original. If you’ve studied consumers for as long as I have, you soon get insight fatigue. The same kinds of insight appear everywhere, across many different categories.

Finally it’s hard to encapsulate an insight as a pithy, 2 line phrase or sentence. People are complex, contradictory. Crafting an insight statement can either feel too trite or too long winded. So much time and energy can be wasted on debating words and agonising over language. Because there’s a box to fill in your brand positioning framework, you feel you have to write something really strong and it often appears as the weakest bit.

Therefore when looking to spot an insight, my recommendations are:

1. Focus on What Doesn’t Change

There’s a famous Bill Bernbach quote, one of the great pioneers of the advertising industry. I came across it recently via a Mark Ritson webinar.

“It took millions of years for man’s instincts to develop. It will take millions more for them to even vary. It is fashionable to talk about changing man. A communicator must be concerned with unchanging man, with his obsessive drive to survive, to be admired, to succeed, to love, to take care of his own.”

When searching for an insight, Instead of trying to focus in on what’s new or different about consumers, look at what remains consistent. That’s where the gold is. These are sometimes referred to as the ‘universal truths’. The instincts and desires that bind us together.

I’m a big fan of Anthony Bourdain’s travel series ‘Parts Unknown’ on Netflix. He travels the world talking to people about food and culture. What strikes me most is the consistency and the similarity of people’s attitudes, desires and behaviours. The cuisines are very different, but their relationships with food have so much in common.

2. Focus on Delivery

Once you’ve got the insight territory right, don’t focus on the wordsmithing. Focus on what you can do with it. Think about how you or your business can satisfy it in ways that are better than what’s come before. If you can come up with ways you can address the insight that feel powerful or differentiated, then you’re onto something. Don’t worry if the insight itself doesn’t feel unique. It’s just the springboard, the start point.

3. Trust Your Judgement

If you’re watching a focus group or reading some research and spot a behaviour or a need that feels it could be foundation for your brand, then go with it. It may not feel fresh to everyone, but if it sparks something exciting within you, explore it. It may challenge your existing beliefs, or it could confirm something you’ve always thought but have never been able to articulate. In any case trust your gut instinct. Does it spark your imagination? If so, work with it.

So in summary:

Insights are important. But don’t worship them. Don’t agonise over the wording of an insight statement. They’re just the start of the journey towards creating a great brand or business. Instead, focus on getting the insight territory roughly right. Remember the wise words of Bill Bernbach. Identify the ‘unchanging’ aspects of consumer behaviour you should focus on. Trust your judgement in helping you decide what that might be. Then, focus your energies on thinking how you may be able to address the insight in ways that are powerful and distinctive.

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