How To Know An Insight When You See One

The term “insights” is an oft-bandied-about term in marketing circles. As often as the term is used, it is clear that not everyone understands the difference between an insight, a research finding, a data point, and an opinion.

In the world of market research, an insight is something that was not previously articulated or understood by the brand. A rich insight is something that pushes the brand forward in a unique way. An insight is typically a discovered fact about the market that when leveraged will ultimately generate additional or increased profits. Most of the time insights are ancillary to the answers clients desire but are always well received.

Insights come about in a few ways. Qualitatively, they are borne of listening, really listening to customers. Alternatively, it is that ah ha moment that occurs after pushing for greater and greater depth of understanding. Quantitatively, insights might be the result of multivariate statistical modeling that allows the researcher to view patterns of data in different ways. It is often the case that insights occur when we consider data (qualitative and / or quantitative) holistically rather than looking at individual variables.

Regardless of how insights come about, they are often (but not always) unique to brand need states, customer motivations, or unspoken brand truths. Insights must be believable, actionable, and have practical applications. Rich insights are critical to the development of value propositions, brand positioning, and brand strategies and they often form the basis marketing communications.

An insight is not a data point, a personal opinion, or an answer to a research objective.

Not so long ago we conducted an advertising pre-test of a series of television commercials that were designed to curb drunk driving among young males. We tested advertisements that were generally very successful in their shock value but did not seem to have the desired outcome of causing the viewer to consider changing their attitude and behavior. During the course of this evaluation we discovered that what the target audience really cared about was how much of a hassle it is to get a DUI, which involves traffic court, fines, and community service. Ah ha! We reported a series of insights around this finding along with the general study findings about the advertisements tested, and conclusions and recommendations. The following year the anti-DUI campaign focused on the sentiments these young men had about DUIs, thus becoming more relatable and therefore more likely to cause the target audience to consider changing their attitudes and behaviors.

Data-based findings, whether from qualitative or quantitative data, answer clients’ questions. The value add comes from gleaning those little gold nuggets we call insights from the research and is why it is important to dig deep for rich insights. Identifying insights as opposed to a finding or data point or personal opinion is tough. But those who do become masters.


Kirsty Nunez is founder and President of Q2 Insights, Inc., a market research consulting firm with offices in San Diego and New Orleans