Identifying great insights is every marketer’s dream.  However, do we really understand what a true insight is versus a finding?  And, do we understand how to really go about identifying them?  I hope to shed some light on this very important topic.

Let’s start by asking the question ‘what is a great insight and how is that different than a finding’?

Through experience, my observation is that great insights reveal a deep discovery about the consumer that can be leveraged to position a brand or new product in a differentiating and meaningful way. Insights go beyond what consumers say they do and their current behaviors and choices.  Instead, insights impact future choices, attitudes, and behaviors.  A great insight is unexpected yet obvious too.

  • A finding is a consumer articulated behavior (functional).  An insight captures an unarticulated emotional truth regarding the ‘whys’ behind the behavior.
  • A finding is what consumers are doing now.  An insight can change behavior in the future.
  • A finding is factual information.  An insight applies knowledge to those facts.
  • Findings can be merely informative; Insights bear a much greater responsibility. They must be informative and actionable.

Here are examples of ‘game-changing’ insights that really drove business growth and leadership success.

Tom’s shoes was founded on the premise that one pair of shoes will be donated to a child in need for every pair bought.  Given its unique benevolent premise, the company was perplexed when sales stagnated very early in the brand’s life cycle.  To restore the company to growth, the team conducted a core follower assessment to understand their zealot’s needs and wants as well as to understand why they are so passionate about the brand.  They identified ‘Benevolent Believers’ (guys and girls 18-34 who have a conscious and want to do good in the world) as their core target based on this assessment.  With this target in mind, they reviewed their strategy and determined that Tom’s was really positioning itself as a fashion alternative versus a movement to save lives.  Shifting the core insight from ‘a shoe company with a cause’ to ‘a cause that starts with a shoe company’ and ensuring that all marketing communications leveraged this insight was credited with the key change driving their huge success.

Weight Watchers is another great example of a brand that leverages a key insight to differentiate itself from other ‘diet’ brands.  Specifically, Weight Watchers understands that their target dreads diets in large part because of their fear of failure and therefore humiliation to themselves and others.  This fear becomes debilitating and insurmountable.  Based on this insight, Weight Watchers promises a life plan not a diet that provides the flexibility of foods through points to help one feel that an indulgence isn’t a slip leading to failure. Further, the group meetings provide support and encouragement.

The Real Housewives franchise continues to grow year after year, by leveraging the key insight that many women feel better about their own dysfunctions by watching other’s.  This, combined with the ability to have a mindless escape in a stressed out world, has been key to driving this brand’s success.

Tips to Identifying Great Insights

While hugely important, uncovering these insight revelations can be challenging. Here are 3 tips to identifying great insights.

  1. A great insight is a triangulation of learnings that leverage the research at hand, combined with the ‘in the head’ experience acquired by a moderating consultant with years of target, category, and cross category experience. It requires someone who has the knowledge base to identify the common thread between disparate pieces of information versus just recording what consumers say.
  2. A great insight requires observing not just asking. There is a human truth that most people can’t say what they feel or what they do, either because they are unaware of their behavior and/or are holding back as a self-preservation tactic. As such, identifying great insights requires an objective trained eye to see the visceral unarticulated reactions by consumers’ and interpret them. Observing can be achieved in a focus group setting, in-home/ethnography or even through video-taping.
  3. Great insights require digging deep and peeling back the layers. It is not just about understanding category and product usage behavior or attitudes.   It is about linking these to consumer’s whole lives, personalities, habits, values and dreams.


It looks like an eye, but it’s really a butterfly — Photo by Bill Hails (creative commons