Wmalinowski_triobriand_isles_1918An insight is a word that is tossed around a lot in advertising.

People apply that word to everything from clever observations to smart-sounding broad statements that just act as post-rationalizations for their strategy. I’ve always believed the idea that an insight is the capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing. I’ve always believed that because it’s the dictionary definition, and that’s good enough for me.

It’s important to define correctly because as soon as you start to pervert the idea of what an insight is, or the insight itself, each task after becomes more and more off track and ultimately even ineffective. Everything in marketing is anchored in a human insight: from product development, to strategy, to creative ideation. As the former CEO, now Chairman of P&G, A.G. Lafley says “Most of our biggest mistakes were made when we misread the consumer.”

Every great piece of creative is sincerely tied to a human insight. As a planner, it’s our job to understand the consumer, to see what drives them and what would influence their beliefs and behaviours. If the job of the planner is to know the consumer best, why then do we so often gather that knowledge without connecting with them directly? How can we honestly say we know the consumer? How can we honestly say we have valuable insight into them?

Instead of speaking to them, we rely on outdated segmentation and our industry’s recent favourite tool de jour – databases and “big data”. While online tools and desk research have been a great addition to the planner’s arsenal in understanding the consumer, we can’t rely solely on them – or as legendary Planner Jon Steel calls it – becoming a “Google Planner”. Those research databases you have paid a great deal of money for – you didn’t think you were their only client, did you? Your competing brands and their agencies have access to the same information, so how can you expect to develop better communications if you’re pulling the same information for your briefs?

Desk research aside, our lazy excuse for not connecting with the consumer: no time, no money. What’s just as troubling is when we do have a bit of budget because we often default to focus groups.

On occasion there’s nothing wrong with choosing focus groups – but in a profession like strategy, where we overuse the word “insight” and overuse synonyms for “innovation”… well, it’s just surprising that insight and innovation haven’t collided. We have yet to innovate on insight-gathering, continually using focus groups not even as our back up method, but as our default.

We need to be more courageous about exploring new methodologies to discover human insight. So reject the notion that you need a lot of time and money to conduct great primary research that leads to fresh insights. Get up from your desk – go do something unusual! Be creative and be resourceful. Or in the words of Jason Last “Go deep and go weird.” Here are just a few of the creative approaches the speakers shared at the APG Event this past Wednesday:

  • Need to understand the importance of perfume for your client’s new launch? Take a pole dancing class and end up talking to a couple strippers, getting a deeper understanding of the role perfume plays in seduction.
  • Need to reposition a product that is a part of senior living? Try living in a retirement home for a day or two as one planner did. Don’t just talk to them. Think like a method actor! Watch them, put yourself in their shoes, or even give yourself the same physical constraints that they struggle with.
  • Are you trying to get your product out of a dry insight the industry has been stuck in for years? Try and bring a new perspective to it. Cross-pollinate the product with the unexpected. Ask mixologists what they think of a soft drink, discuss with urban planners what they dislike about a package, or just listen to what a category-rejecter has to say about never owning a smartphone.

For any situation you come across in trying to gain new perspectives, these ideas may not work. They are only here to inspire you. Remember, these tactics were built out of necessity – they faced barriers just as you did: no time, no money, and any existing options were not applicable to their problem. They still went forward and built solutions like these in spite of their circumstance. You too can go forward and build your own creative solutions for finding fresh insights.

The quality of information you receive is based the questions you ask. So start putting a lot more thought into how you gather information, and who you gather information from. The more unique the information you collect, the more unique the insights will be, leading to more effective creative.

Great creative needs great insights, and we’ve relied on the same old methods for far too long.

Perhaps the brilliant management guru Peter Drucker said it best…. “If you wanna start doing something new, you have to stop doing something old” 

About Carson Marks

Carson Marks has written 2 post in this blog.

Strategist @ Cundari