What is an Insight?

4 Feb 2014

Tracey Follows of JWT spoke of “noticing when you are noticing” and in particular slowly realizing that you are dealing with a “weird kind of normal” (CF Gilbert and George, Seinfeld) that might be of some use.

 

 

This realization comes from your brain trying to extract meaning from this odd mix of weird  and normal.  Often (cf Seinfeld) this realization feels literally funny.
The advice, by implication, is to operate in zone that is clearly not normal but is not so detached from reality to be silly.  I think I concur.  (Or at least, start at silly and work back until it starts to feel interesting/useful).

 

Andy Davidson of Flamingo had insight as “a disturbance in the discourse” (i.e. the normal way of talking/thinking about things is thrown off course). He had some interesting “don’ts” that I think I agree with…

 

-Don’t pursue truth (its often boring, or done, or undisruptive)

(n.b. the interesting, odd stuff can become “true” in time, a theme others would talk to…)

-Don’t start from consumers (at least their normal behaviour)

-You don’t always need to go deep – going sideways for perspective may be better.

-Beware the monolithic insight !(others picked up on this later)

Wherever you go (similarly to Tracey) you will know the feeling when “the discourse is disturbed”. I think he might have been the one who mentioned stand-up comedians who deliberately disrupt things and then explore this new imagined world. Laughter is kind of obvious, when it happens. You don’t need to define it. Just explore…

 

Nick Hirst of Dare had a bit of a go about insights as we often work with them. He argues that a classic, modern insight often…

 

-Doesn’t allow complexity (too singular)

-Doesn’t allow change (too fixed, monolithic)

-Can be used too literally in charmless advertising

-Is obsessed over for its own sake (we obsess over form, forgetting function…)

-Can favour novelty over being right (cf revelations)

-Claims too much of a role in the process (often the execution is where the magic is)

-Assumes too much importance (sometimes needs are marginal)

So he recommended coming back to talking about “needs” (or thinking of “user needs” in a web experience way).

 

The advantage of this is that some needs aren’t new (cf Facebook), some needs can be multiple (eg websites) and needs can change.

 

David Wilding of PHD presented something that looked a lot like a model I often use:

 

-Issue (I have “Inputs”)

-Insight (snap!)

-Idea (snap!)

-Implementation (I have “infilling”; his is better!)

 

He went on to say that the insight could be understood in retrospect as “why we did what we did” or going forwards, it’s the thing that tells us “why we are doing what we are doing”.

This does remind me that often a planner’s job is to post-rationalise/explain/sell other people’s thinking.  We are the link between art and commerce, often.

 

Caitlin Ryan of Karmarama brought it back to what I think stops us losing perspective on all this i.e. that an insight is there to help the creative team/dept. in some way (it’s an idea that gets you to The Idea)

She observed that while a vigorously distilled insight was reassuringly black and white to a client, creatives normally prefer a bit of grey.In particular she observed that CREATIONIST creatives aiming at a perfect concept, born behind closed doors, perhaps expressed in advertising, and might like a perfect “thing to say” (i.e a classic insight). But a more EVOLUTIONARY creative, perhaps working in a more digital or social medium, with feedback from data, adapting an idea over time, and thinking about brand behavior…. might prefer something less “locked in” and more mercurial.  So how can planning help, is the question…

 

John Griffiths had the speediest but most brilliantly dense talk. The main thing I took out of it is that insights are not singularities but things that occur all along the food chain in different forms.

 

Wow – a real insight about how insights work….
 So they start “out there” in consumer land (unknown and undescribed, but we know they’re thereThey are tracked down and found (by a “barefoot researcher”, John hopes) and passed on as a “finding” in a research report or debrief.

Then they are (hopefully) added in as “knowledge” where they are combined with other things the agency/client already knows {to me this is the classic, codified “insight” that the other speakers were referring to, or indeed criticizing: but this is just one version of the whole thing!}


Then (importantly, if they really are to have value) they get assimilated as “culture” where they just become part of normal behaviour and decision making because “we all know that”.

 

Finally, either when they no longer work or new, better ones come along and supplant them, they die and are discarded.

 

It’s a Circle of Life kind of thing!

Fascinating. Brilliant. Stealable…

As a fishing metaphor the chain goes:

-    Ecosystem-Fish-Food-Energy-Dissipation

 

What I found good about all this is it reveals where they really exist, what we as marketing types do with them and what they are ultimately for (energy).  They also can’t really be “mined” as they are much more memetic than that (is that a word? I mean “having the properties of memes”).

 

Finally John offered  another brilliant insight (!) as to what agencies actually do : we provide the energy; we are in the energy business,  whereas marketing clients create the infrastructure/buy-in that turns the insights/energy into business processes and commercial scale that delivers the big returns (as he put it, they are in the momentum business).

 

Onto questions: I asked that if the word “strategy” came from military culture, where did they think “insight” had emerged from (we didn’t use “Insight” as a word much in the 80’s and 90’s)? The first answer was it was a psychological term about discovering the deep “inner mind” that consumers are unaware of but professionals can find. Sounds about right… Tracy also offered that it in part refers to some fantastical, witchcrafty, magical discovery, which was a good reminder to chase the magic not just do the analysis.


I can’t remember the questions but I also jotted down:

 

-“Insights can be embarrassing. It’s often really obvious” (so true)

 

-From JG, as an example of a good one from the tech sector: “They’re not IT Networks, they‘re people Networks” (see point above)

 

-And “what’s the biggest lie you could tell? And work back from there” as a way to get to them  (cf comedians)

 

Tracey closed with asking “why are we doing what we are doing”.  I can’t remember the answers but for me we were (either) all there engaging in collectively justifying our fragile existence as planners in the value chain, or (less cynically) we are all engaged in an arms race where we are all trying to make the biggest possible difference somewhere along the CLIENT –IDEA—CONSUMER chain.

 

Those planners (and their agencies) who do “this insight thing” best will win. And that’s why were there – we all need to keep sharpening our insight blades. In which case we were all well served by these six insight maestros…

 

Jon Leach

Planning Director at Chime Communications

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