What is an insight?

February 7, 2017

This post was first published on Hill + Knowlton Strategies. More on that change in my life later!


What is an insight?

They are the things upon which multimillion (billion?) dollar decisions are made.

That entrepeneurs bet their careers and family’s lives on.

That companies are founded on.

That political leaders stake their reputations and campaign on.

But what, really is an insight? For me, the best way to define an insight is to paraphrase entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel, of PayPal fame, and say that every insight is a secret. And as with all secrets, the less people who know about it, the more powerful it is.

This especially hits home for all strategists. How long do we toil through data, through focus groups, through online behavior and through popular culture to find those secrets? How overjoyed or relieved do we feel when we find one – and how much do we subsequently protect it, polish it and decide how best to use it.

But not all secrets are the same. As we talked about this within H+K, we identified five core types of secrets or insights that we use to solve our client’s business problems.

Those we discover on our own: this is the classic secret where one person’s brilliance, persistence and intuition leads to a completely new discovery. Thiel calls this the Pythagorean secret and eventually they cease becoming secrets and start becoming convention.

Those that are commonly held but that we chose to use in unusual ways: this is the act of taking an insight from one industry or category and applying it to another. Insights gleaned from years of pitching media relations stories can be used to reshape a brand strategy. Insights into the purchase journey of buying a car can be applied to that of buying term life insurance.

Those that only we can see or understand thanks to data and analysis: this is what I would call the “Moneyball” secret. The answer is staring us in the face, if only we can interpret the data properly and get over our own inherent biases to realize that On Base Percentage (Hits + Walks) is more valuable than slugging percentage (which measures power).

Those that allow us to reframe a problem or belief. Our WPP colleague Rory Sutherland brilliantly reframes the spending of six billion pounds to shave 40 minutes off the Eurostar journey by simply making the journey infinitely more pleasurable – through the use of models and vintage wines.

Those that we can combine to make more powerful. Like the five mechanical lions coming together to form Voltron: Legendary Defender (my son’s current favourite show), the act of combining many small and powerful secrets together makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts, and allows us to solve bigger problems for our clients.

The definition of insight is something we can, and have, debated for days. However, the inarguable truth is: if you want to forge truly meaningful connections with consumers or stakeholders, your communication needs to be rooted in an insight into their lives, their needs and their behaviours…and your business’ role therein.


The Creative Brief

February 20, 2011

One of the interesting things, to me, about the ad industry, is the importance of the creative brief. I’ve definitely not figured out how to write a great one yet so I’m reading and researching to get all the help I can find. Therefore I was grateful to get this pointer on Quora from the President of Leo Burnett Canada, Dom Caruso:

My experience over 25+ years is that when the brief is tight, and the task is indisputably clear, creative people can put their imagination where it counts most. And most important in closing the sale, there is less subjectivity later in the process. Every gold-winning campaign I ever worked on was when the brief was so tight that the creative guys knew what success looked like, and there was no way to wiggle out of it at in the creative presentation.

The worst creative brief i ever had from a client was “I just want ‘WOW-factor’. Make people go ‘wow’ “. It was pure hell. It became an impossible-to-achieve task that was faced to new previously unstated objections of why that kind of “wow” wouldnt work. While the agency won countless awards for other clients, we couldn’t get the client to say yes to an ad.

“When forced to work within a strict framework, the imagination is taxed to its utmost – and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom, the work is likely to sprawl.” TS Eliot

Of course we all like brevity and simplicity. But if making it tight takes a few extra words, add the words and make it tight.


Hat tip to Paul Lin, @tribal.

What is Social Media?

November 12, 2009


Social media is a lot. It is scary and confusing but it is rewarding.

Social media is complex and simple at the same time.

Social media is not a substitute for insight. Social media needs insight to work for your brand or organization, but social media can also generate insight for your brand or organization.

Social media is not always a quick win. Social media is not guaranteed.

Social media is and always should be fun. That’s the social part.

More insights into social media over on The Planning Lab (thanks for the image) and on Dave Jones’s blog.

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