5 Principles for Uncovering True Insight

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Megan Hillen
Megan Hillen




That notorious buzzword habitually used by agency professionals, demanded by clients and considered an essential early step in the marketing process. And yet, the process for uncovering true insight has become a seemingly lost art.

The downfall stems from a crime many of us stand guilty of: mislabeling data as insight. Consumer research is the life source for market strategists, and digital technology has given us more data than we could ever dream of. But taking data at face value and interchanging it with insight is an all too common behavior. True insight digs far deeper than numbers and figures. It should deliver the “aha,” as Oprah would call it.

In Zaltzman’s “How Customers Think,” he reveals that only 5 percent of our cognitive activity takes place in our logical or conscious part of the brain. The remaining 95 percent rests in the irrational. What does that mean for market researchers? Customers can’t always explain why they do what they do — at least in true terms. One could argue that 95 percent of insight discovery takes some serious sleeve-rolling and prying to understand the real “why” of the behavior.

Perhaps this is why naturally inquisitive people are the most brilliant insight finders. It requires a quality of asking why as incessantly as a toddler until you uncover that golden intersection of consumer action and the real motivation behind it.

Of course, there isn’t a recipe to follow or a QA team to vet insights through, but certain principles exist that help strategists recognize true insight. Here are a few such principles to ensure you hit a cord with your audience and earn an eyebrow raise from your internal teams and clients:

1. An Insight is a Human Truth

The most powerful advertising incites emotion. This more often than not stems from an insight that carries a high human truth that is both moving and relatable. From trash bags to business communication software, even the most lifeless of products have an emotional consumer connection. The insight taps into this certainty about who we are as humans and why we feel what we feel.

2. An Insight Digs Deeper Than Observation

80 percent of people under 25 use social media while watching television. Interesting, but it’s not an insight — it’s a statistic. The insight should answer the why behind an observation. It should uncover the hidden motivation behind a consumer behavior. Instead ask, “Why is it that people feel the need to socialize online while watching television?”

3. An Insight Should Deliver a New, Untapped Understanding

It is an ongoing challenge to deliver undiscovered truths of the human complexion. Working with the same brands and in the same industries, it is difficult to resist regurgitating our findings over and over again. Yet a true insight breaks this mold. It offers something new, true and untapped by any other brand.

4. An Insight Doesn’t Arrive Overnight

An insight is simplistic in form but takes intense time, mounds of research and brainpower to reach. Teams outside of planning and strategy should appreciate the time it takes to get there. You don't want to worry about fixing the foundation after you’ve already built the house.

5. An Insight Should Serve as a Foundation to Unlock Creative Thinking

If the insight doesn’t earn curious head nods from your creative team, get back to the whiteboard. As planners and strategists, our work should serve as the key our creative teammates depend on — giving them the “aha” to inspire brilliant work.

Topics: Creativity

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