What, exactly, are insights… and how do you find them?

“Nothing is so powerful as an insight into human nature, what compulsions drive a man, what instincts dominate his action, even though his language so often camouflages what really motivates him. For if you know these things about a man you can touch him at the core of his being.”

Bill Bernbach, creative founder of DDB


Fair enough. People only respond to the stuff they find interesting and relevant. Makes sense. But, when it comes to insight, how do you know when you’ve struck on something truly great? And how do you go about finding insight in the first place?


Technically there is a difference between mere observation (put simply, the things we can literally see on the surface of behavior – the habits, the routines, the stuff that makes people smile or grimace) and true insight. Unlike observation, insight lives further down – it is the stuff that’s rarely articulated, it is what we find out when observe, but then ask ‘why’.


For example, once upon a time when working on a detergent brand, I was tasked with developing a campaign targeting mums to use non bio on their baby’s clothes. The observation we made immediately is that babies get really messy. From dribble to food to poo – baby clothes have the toughest time. It was a nice observation for a laundry brand, but it was only when we asked ‘why’ that we found the truly rich space. The deeper truth was that, through getting dirty, babies are developing some of life’s most fundamental skills, like how to walk and how to feed themselves. Rather than just muck, the dirt was the evidence of their achievements, the proof that they were growing and developing. This space was far more enlightening and far more interesting to mums than the inital, obvious observation.


Day to day, mining for insights is about peering into nooks and crannies around your brand and its consumer, without losing sight of the big picture. It is a skill and it can take time. Reading is the natural place to start and unexpected truths can pop out of quirks in quant data as easily as it can from a journal on anthropology; but the key thing is to search and read well. Get outside of marketing opinion and know that google is also your competitors start point.


Getting out into the real world can deliver rich findings, because art, comedians, culture and pub conversation can all trigger lateral leaps in how to connect with people. Listen for the revelations, the confessions and the contractions always judging whether they are useful or relevant to the brand and its challenges. And keep. Asking. Why.


Finally, know that insight can come from anywhere – most people look to audience, but your market, your competitor, your values, your product (and its context in the real world) can be just as revealing. Uncovering insight is the bedrock of strategy development and, whilst pure observation can deliver platforms for creativity, until we’ve asked the ‘why’ questions we’ll never be able to say we had the strongest start point.