Three characteristics of a good insight

Insights_golden egg

Originally published in February 2013 at Marketing Tribune, updated in February 2022.

Any good marketing strategy starts from a strong consumer insight. Take a brand, e.g., J&B (Diageo). The ‘insight’ that lays at the basis of innovation and communication concepts for the brand is: “In a world of day-to-day constraints and social pressure, consumers want nights out that offer the promise that the unexpected can happen”. But when do you actually have a strong insight?

1. It’s me

A good insight is relevant for a consumer, and this relevance can be driven by personal or by peer identification. When testing an insight’s relevance, it’s vital to get as close as possible to your target group. An example is how we immersed in the lives of Gen Z consumers in Hong Kong for Nike to gain an in-depth understanding of what defines this generation: their beliefs, their values and their attitudes.


2. Aha!

As Steve Jobs said: “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want, until you show it to them”. A strong insight is sort of like an ‘Aha’ experience: a combination of surprise and something familiar. It entails a view on something which was implicit all that time. To get to these ‘Aha’ moments, you need a creative and multidisciplinary approach. Chiquita, for example, ‘activated’ consumers and ‘deprived’ them from their normal behavior, in support of the launch of their smoothies. They asked consumers with a healthy lifestyle to eat less healthily, whereas consumers with a less healthy lifestyle were sent a fruit basket, with the question to eat more healthily. By taking consumers out of their comfort zone, Chiquita learned a lot about the role smoothies could play on a mental and physical level.


3. Emotion

Behind every strong insight lies a need to improve an existing situation. In other words: it’s not just about being relevant. An insight should also have emotional valence, there needs to be a desire for a potential solution. This could be related to a friction or a problem that consumers want to solve. But it could also be a desire for something. Consumers should be excited about having a potential solution. A good example is Pampers (P&G): by focussing on the fact that babies with a healthy and dry skin feel better altogether and play, learn and develop more easily, they touch any parent’s emotions.


The insight formula

Now we know what an insight is about, let’s also explain what it is not. An insight is not a hypothesis, it’s not an observation, it’s not an idea. Yet, it can be the start of possibly hundreds of ideas. It is a source of inspiration for branding, communication, innovation and customer experience. Madonna is a good example. For years, she was at the top of the music entertainment sector. She innovated all the time, but never stepped away from one strong insight: “I want to escape the limitations of a daily routine and enjoy the activity of fantasizing about alternative identities, lives or positions”. The easier it is to come up with different ideas that start off from your insight, the stronger your insight is.

Everyone remembers the strategic marketing mistake Coca-Cola made at the launch of ‘New Coke’. Every taste test showed that the new Coke formula was better than the familiar Coca-Cola flavor. But the Coca-Cola marketeers did not start off from a strong insight. The taste test was based on small quantities of the soft drink, which gave a wrong idea of the taste experience. The relevance and the tension that were experienced were low: consumers were not really looking for a new Coca-Cola flavor. In the end, it was not a start for a wide range of Coca-Cola marketing ideas; it was limited to flavor only.

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