The Account Planners group on LinkedIn has a nice discussion going about When is an insight an insight? A good conversation surrounding insights is always interesting because they remain a bit of a mystery... What is the importance of insights? What are insights, really? And how do you go about finding them?
Looking for a definition of insights is difficult but Simon had some good thinking. As a noun an insight is 'a deep and intuitive understanding of a person or thing'. But the definition by Diageo is really good for marketing:
An insight is a penetrating observation about consumer behavior that can be applied to unlock growth.
If that's how it's defined than an insight is pretty important. And yet finding a good insight is very difficult. They come in many different forms...
Sometimes new or previously unused motivating facts can serve as useful insights. Such was the case for Think! traffic safety that makes us look at posted speed limits with a re-newed perspective.
Sometimes an insight is a new way of looking at existing information. This often takes incredible imagination on the part of the planner. Honda Grrr is an excellent example of this, turning 'hate' into something positive for Honda.
Often an insight comes after getting close to consumers and seeing fresh or niche uses of the product or service. Observing how some test homes used Febreze enabled P&G, after several failed hypothesis, to understand that the most intriguing use of the product for its initial launch was as a final touch after cleaning (versus covering up unpleasant smells).
And looking at milk consumption in a new way led to "Aaron Burr" and all the great got milk? spots.
Another form of insights can be realizing when and why consumers need something different because the status quo has become a bit silly. Dollar Shave Club hit a nerve by calling out multi-blade, expensive razors while the launch of the iMac showed us their famous two step set up.
There are other types of insights.
Regardless of their form great insights make us feel different. Like we've learned or discovered something new and valuable as consumers. Which is an incredibly powerful way to change behavior.
Great insights are also very easy to re-communicate to others. Jeremy Bullmore illustrates this beautifully. He cites two insights:
Insight #1: Product satisfaction arises less from inherent construction and performance than from consumers' internalised perceptions of personal utility.
Insight #2: People don't want quarter-inch drills. They want quarter-inch holes.
They both mean the same thing.
The first one you can imagine in many powerpoint decks, often not going far beyond that. The second is the famous line from Harvard Professor Theodore Levitt.
The second one is inspiring and easy to remember. It also points to the fact that often the language we use to communicate insights is as important, if not more important, than the insight itself. Which doesn't mean use big words. Quite the opposite. Jeremy articulates this well:
By definition, a good creative brief contains a bold hypothesis. To generate hypotheses you need to speculate: you need to progress from the known to the unknown. But you cannot paint the future in the colours of the past. Other people's imaginations need to be engaged, excited, signed on as accomplices. And the choice of the language you use is not arbitrary and inconsequential; for an insight to have real potency, the language in which it is couched is at least as important as the inner truth itself. For an insight to have real potency, literal accuracy is less important than its power to evoke.
This point is also a good reminder that we don't always need amazing insights to produce amazing creative work. Simon reminds us of this too when he pulled a snapshot of Cannes winners--the majority of which were simply great ideas without notable insights...
There needs to be a bold idea in every brief. Which is why the best brief writers brief themselves after they write it. Can they create an ad immediately, even it's horrible? If they can't there's no way the creative team will be able to either.
The bold idea can come in the form of a new insight or also as a unique one-off thought, like the great Arnold VW example that the joy of a convertible isn't just driving it on sunny days, but enjoying a warm, nighttime sky.
Finding insights and bold creative hypothesis means that we must remain extremely close to the client's product or service and also be genuinely interested in things. As Russell once said "inspiration isn't in what you look at, it's in how you look."