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 power of the post-launch

December 9, 2013

So much of our time is spent focusing on launching a campaign or on shipping a product. There’s a feeling that that moment is the zenith, the peak that we should we working towards and when its achieved, we can take a breath. Sadly, that is no longer the truth. The “set and forget” mindset is long behind us and it is great to see a huge, multi-billion dollar brand that not only gets that but that then uses the data it gets from its consumers to fuel its ongoing marketing. In this case. its the EA Sports football franchise, FIFA.

With all of the connected devices playing network games, or even just relaying statistics back to the mothership, EA Sports has a treasure trove of data that it can use to continue to market itself in smart, low cost ways – the definition of building marketing into the product.

Here are two examples:

First, FIFA has partnered with the football clubs around the world to showcase the goals of the week scored by the clubs’ fans on their game. Now you have football clubs with a social presence reaching into the 10s of millions promoting a video game. Here’s my club’s goals of the week:

And secondly here is FIFA using its data to cement its place in the cultural fabric of its potential consumers – football fans.

FIFA player data

There’s enough rich data in the infographic to start a conversation between any two (or more!) footy fans from different clubs, countries and cultures.

Shared Media Should Be Added to Paradigm of Paid, Earned and Owned Media

December 11, 2012

Paid, Owned and Earned Media have definitely entered the marketing lexicon – indeed, one of my clients last year was very focused on maximising both the reach of their owned properties and the way in which owned properties were put to use.

But there is another term that should be inserted into this lexicon – Shared Media.

Shared media represents platforms where brands can create their own presences and interact with consumers but where they are beholden to the true owners – the platform on which they create their presences. Confusing? Perhaps. But a very true reflection of the world we live in where there are “terms of use” from the major platforms (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, tumblr etc) that govern how we, as marketers can leverage their functionality and their audience.

For instance, last week we logged onto a brand’s Facebook page that we manage to find that the Timeline cover image had been disabled for contravening these terms of use. Totally fair enough for Facebook but proof positive that we do not own the spaces in which our client’s brands invest serious dollars in both media and creative. We’re renting from the platforms and sharing with the other users.

We own the content, not the distribution.

PUMA: Love or Football

August 16, 2012

The famous Liverpool FC manager, Bill Shankly, once said

“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that”.

Well, PUMA set out to see if this was true – do football fans really love their clubs more than their wives? The answer, in the form of some compelling, thought provoking and divisive branded content is below.

Visit Love or Football for the full “white paper”.

I’m really interested to see how this intelligent approach works for PUMA, especially vs than the usual football marketing – usually we get a glossy high octane piece of video, based on the same old insights, with incredibly skilled players doing incredible skills. Don’t get me wrong, I love the traditional approach and it is one of the main reasons I look forward to the major football tournaments every 2 years…the ads! But this approach is inviting conversation, discord and debate – perfect for getting people to share in and pass along the brand’s message and heritage in the beautiful game. It adds another dimension to the way we can think about marketing our clients.

The other thing that is interesting is the result of the test – I can’t comment on the methodology so I have to presume it is fine! From a human level, it shows the power of peer pressure and conformity – these men, of all generations, know how a true football fan is “expected” to behave and this learned behaviour is enough to override a strong physiological response honed over thousands of years. For what its worth, while I love my club, I know I love my wife more – I just wish they could get along better.

Twitter Best Practices – Marketing Mag Transcript

October 11, 2011

I was recently interviewed by Marketing Mag’s Kristin Laird for the publication’s “Very Necessary Twitter Guide”. As it was an email interview, I was able to lean on my colleagues Marty Yaskowich and Nik Badminton for their thoughts. The Q+A is below but you can read the full and final version here:

The Very Necessary Twitter Guide | Marketing Magazine

The usual caveats about disclosure  apply – there are plenty of client and client competitive examples here.


Question: Is Twitter more than a reactive tool (dealing with consumer complaints)?

Answer: I see Twitter as a channel rather than a tool – it can be bent to whatever use brands want. Because of the immediacy of twitter, it does tend to see a lot of knee jerk reactions and content from consumers. Organisations have to make a decision how they want to deal with these reactions or if they want to lead the conversation around their brand. Twitter is also a tool to gain better visibility on online search. Bing and Twitter have recently resigned their partnership and indicated that more collaborative approaches to search by combining the two will be coming.

Q: Can Twitter be used as a brand building tool? Why or why not? And how?

A: The way the platform has been built and used, it lends itself to personal branding and as a result, brands with defined personalities (ex @BlackBerry), personalities behind the brand (ex @Zappos) or personalities within campaigns (my personal favourites are @TheKevinButler for Playstation or @SaltysLife for Knorr) have been the most successful, from a “branding” perspective. I’m unaware of a brand that has been built purely on twitter…but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t, can’t or won’t be done.

Q: What Canadian brands are using Twitter right? Can you give a specific example?

A: Without knowing the strategy behind the execution, it’s hard to say. That said I think @McD_Canada has done a fantastic job, and has received deserved kudos, of continuing to engage its user base at scale. I’m not being obsequious when I say that that @marketing_mag has done a phenomenal job of really speaking to a niche audience while providing valuable content.

Q: Who should manage a brand’s Twitter account – third party community managers, agency partners, or in-house communications/marketing team? And why?

A: The answer that no-one likes is that it depends. It depends on the brand, the in-house resources, the agency and its competencies. Budget comes in here as well – to do twitter right can take considerable resources. Speaking from an agency perspective, some of our clients want to take this in-house and use us as strategic resources, while others ask us to take on everything from strategy to content creation to engagement with consumers…within certain pre-agreed parameters and supported by the necessary response protocols and escalation procedures.

Q: What are the common mistakes brands make on Twitter?

  • Looking at twitter as a broadcast channel, being selfish and only sharing its own content
  • Not having a clearly defined vision of where twitter fits within the overall marketing activity – the platform doesn’t help this though. The measurement tools for those using the basic account are very weak so it is easy to flounder with no clear direction or measures of success beyond followers, clicks and “engagement”. But for our clients participating in the beta, we have been able to tightly focus on a particular demographic/mindset/interest and show how our followers are the right followers and we’re not just collecting followers for its own sake.
  • Not providing the platform with the correct funding either in terms of time or media (see above)
  • Seeing Twitter as a standalone as opposed to being a component of the overall Paid, Owned and Earned media ecosystem. It does not stand alone and still needs to be planned in alignment with marketing activities such as the digital strategy, PR, web-site updates and other social media outreach activities such as Facebook or blogging etc

Q: Do consumers expect too much from a brand’s Twitter feed? They expect an answer too quickly, or that any problem can be solved by complaining about the brand openly.

A: There are a lot of myths and misconceptions around using twitter for customer service that marketers hear and can be easily seduced by. I strongly believe that brands using twitter to facilitate customer service has encouraged consumers to “shout” for help, rather than using formal customer service channels. In her book, “Open Leadership”, Charlene Li looks at the famous Twelpforce case study, from Best Buy, but what most people don’t realise about this case is that the business problem was identified first, then came the solution and twitter just happened to be the facilitation channel. The “idea” was never to use twitter as a customer service tool, it was to use the latent time of the thousands of best buy employees to better serve their customers and answer questions or solve problems.

For a pitch, my team looked at the consumer sentiment of a well-known brand that uses twitter for customer service. We saw that the volume of conversation around the brand had increased since they started this initiative, but so had the negative sentiment – this brand had trained its customers to shout about any negative issues.

Q: Give three tips on how to manage a corporate Twitter account.

  1. Know your objectives and strategy – and more importantly how they fit in with the business objectives and culture. If it’s appropriate, give your employees permission to engage on Twitter without constraining them too heavily. They are your people, they epitomise your brand and can be your greatest salespeople
  2. Know your audience – and, more importantly what content they want to see. Hint: it’s not just your content
  3. To paraphrase the British army adage: no plan survives contact with the consumer

Listening Audits

June 15, 2011

Years ago (three to be precise), I blogged about the opportunity social media gave us to move above the four p’s of marketing and into the space above that, the market identification and business strategy space. I still believe strongly in this, and the reason is social listening, manifesting itself in listening audits. More and more marketers, particularly social media marketers are  getting very excited at the promise of listening audits – what they could uncover, the insight they can give us, the influencers and communities they can unveil. But sometimes you see, well, what you thought you might see.

The real power of the audit is, when the opportunity presents itself, to really make the most of the three out of  chances. To hammer home the insight, the communities, the solution to the problem. Seven out of ten audits end with expected results, or at least stuff we could intuitively guess at. That’s not a problem and we will always be able to mine some nuggets out of every audit.

But when you’re mining for gems, or diamonds per the above, and you find them, don’t let that opportunity go to waste.

Five Game Mechanics to Use in Social Media

April 26, 2011

The five types of game mechanics, as relates to social media.

Gamification, the application of game mechanics to change consumer behaviour, is hot stuff these days – although not to be confused with Game Theory as described in the prisoner’s dilemma. Here are five ways game mechanics can, and have, be applied to social media services and platforms:

  1. Collecting things. Humans have a primal instinct to collect and display. Offline, think about boy scout badges or Olympic pins. Online, we have our Twitter widgets, Facebook fan pages, and Flickr photo albums.
  2. Earning points. These define achievement and translate into social standing. Offline, it’s how you earn a free airplane flight. Online, it’s the number of fans, friends, followers, or subscribers to your content. We reinforce the credibility of points by watching lists of top blogs, top tweeters, even top egos.
  3. System feedback. Offline, it’s the experience of shopping at an Apple store or your car accelerating when you press the gas. Online, it’s not comments, replies, or trackbacks (those feed into points exchanges), but response from the system itself. How complete is your LinkedIn profile? How much Plurk karma do you have? Do you have Facebook for Blackberry installed yet?
  4. Value exchanges. Successful interactions. Offline, it’s us inviting each others kids to their birthday parties, or paying it forward to strangers. Online, it’s the process of interactions: Posting wall-to-wall. Sending a mini-ninja or martini glass. People “liking” your shared items or Twitter’s @ messages.
  5. Customization and personalization. User-created barriers to exit. Offline, it’s the color you chose to paint your house, the case for your iPhone, the stickers on your laptop. Online, it’s the extensive profile information you entered, the photos you uploaded, or the background picture that says something about your interests.

Interesting stuff. I heard a creative director in Toronto had a chart filled up with all the different game mechanics that they could think of and challenged their teams to incorporate as many as possible into their thinking.

via Peter Kim at Applying game mechanics to social media.

Also of interest, a presentation on the Game Layer by my colleague and Creative Technologist at Tribal DDB, Barry Lachapelle.

Social Owns Social

February 26, 2011

We’re used to saying that the consumer owns social media but the truth is, on Facebook, Twitter, tumblr, WordPress and Blogger – all those ostensibly “free” services – the consumer doesn’t own anything.

If, as a user, you’re not paying for the product, then you are the product.

Now who “owns” who?

Sometimes I just want to sell some hubcaps

November 29, 2010

From the same vein as “all I’m looking for is some really tasty sausages” comes this article on AdAge which reminds us not all companies, brands, products or organizations are right for social media:

“That old CMO doesn’t need to publish content or tweet his innermost and briefest thoughts. He doesn’t need to innovate, crowdsource or chase any other imaginative term marketers use to hype the pretense that branding’s magic will cover up the realities of business, or that the hopes for it are any newer than really old and outdated expectations.

He needs to sell better hubcap fasteners, and there are a wide variety of operational ways he can do so. Sharing that reality with his customers is the marketing opportunity offered by the social web, not a substitute for it. Isn’t doing anything less, or different, just a distraction?”

via The Dangerous Lure of the Social Web – Advertising Age – CMO Strategy.

However, that CMO should know the role reviews and endorsements play in the automobile buying process, along with the difference between his younger customers (who are influenced by their peers) and older customers (who are influenced by respected, usually mainstream, authoritative voices). He should also know the role of search in finding that perfect hubcap and the influence social media plays in search. And what about the increasing role of location based services within social media and their ability to precisely target offers.

I don’t think the answer is to become a publisher, but that’s not to say there’s not a role for social media to play in his mission to profitably sell more hub caps.

Women are the masters of social gaming

October 22, 2010

Social gaming is becoming more and more mainstream and women are driving that change. While the game producers are making money, brands are also starting to get involved in social gaming and as the cost of development is continuously driven down, it can’t be long until a big brand produces a complex and compelling social game.

Women are masters of social gaming

More on the gaming industry and the sea change we are seeing as more and more women get involved.

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