3 Simple “Ways” to Generate Insights! (or The Lost Craft of Insight Generation)

The biggest myth surrounding “insights” is that they are just laying around, that they miraculously fall into your lap, or that you ned to be a genius

The biggest threat to insight is the belief that the marketing community will be able to delegate the insight generation process to big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

I, on the other hand, believe that the act of uncovering insights is a “craft” that includes a set of tool and techniques which can be learned and used to develop your “insight generation skills”, and thus make you a better strategist and marketer.

The point here is that the ability to generate business building insights is not a “talent” you are born with or not (just like the ability to be creative), instead it is something that can be learned and trained. Just like any craft.

So what are those tools and techniques? In my experience, there are three main “ways” to help facilitate the insight generation process. They can be used sequentially or on their own depending on the business problem that needs to be solved and the environment in which it is solved. And the good news is that it really isn’t that difficult to learn those skills and apply these tools. All it really requires is the knowledge of those tools and a bit of practice in applying them.

Defining the problem

“A problem well formulated is half solved”. We all know this quote and yet I rarely see it actually been applied in real life problem solving situations. It usually isn’t included in client briefings, nor is it included in creative briefs or other agency briefs.

But the way you frame the problem is usually the first step to unlocking fresh perspectives on how to solve the business problem. The reason is that each problem definition has a set of inherent and implicit assumptions built in. These assumptions are based on the beliefs and culture in which they are formulated and the experience of those formulating the problem.

Challenging those assumptions and in the process reframing the problem is the first step to uncover powerful insights.

For example, one problem could be stated as “How can we make the check-out lines shorter?” This assumes, amongst others, that people don’t want to wait which is usually true. However another way to frame this problem could be: “How do we make the waiting lines more entertaining so that people actually look forward to stand in line when checking out?”. Same problem, framed completely differently, leading to a completely different set of solutions. Just ask Disney World.   

There are at least 7 different “techniques” one can use to reframe a problem, 7 “simple” ways to shed a completely new light on a business problem. Now let’s be honest, how many techniques do you know?

Digging for insights

The second step in the process is to actually dig for insights. The challenge here is not to uncover new information but to recognize an insight when you see it. In fact, the most common mistake marketers make when looking for insights is to confuse “new information” with “insights. Insights have inherently news value, but that doesn’t mean that any new information is necessarily an insight. It usually is not.

This requires an understanding on where to look for insights but more importantly an awareness for the feeling you’ll get (yes, it is going to be a feeling and visceral reaction first) when you stumble upon one. As such, insights are a bit like creative ideas, the most difficult part not being to come up with one but to recognize the potential of one. And that initial reaction is generally visceral rather than rational (even though it can then be rationalized).  

In our experiences there are at least 28 areas where you can dig for insights. I’ll cover those in detail in a future project, but in my experience insights are contextual, meaning an accepted belief for one organization or brand might be a transforming insight for another.

One of my previous posts, “The 8 immutable truths about insights” provides a more thorough look at the nature of insights and how to recognize them.

Extracting Insights

The third step in the process consist in applying specific tools that will enable you to look at interesting data (which is probably new to you but still not an insight) and extract actual actionable insights from it.

The fact that family dinner night is chaotic and often a source of stress for moms is nothing new. It’s true but it is not an insight. Capturing the “why” this is so for the mom (or dad) and phrasing this in a compelling way will lead to an insight.

An interesting piece of new information becomes an insight when it helps trigger a behavior and/or when it helps relieve a tension in consumers lives (and thus trigger a behavior). And here again, there are tools to help you do that. The most common and popular being probably the “Why” laddering exercise. Another would be to look at potential tensions that exist between culture, the brand and the people you are trying to appeal to and to identify a meaningful way for your brand to help resolve those tensions.  

Generating insights is a craft not necessarily a given gift. And understanding and applying the tools and techniques available to you in each phase (which can be used separately or sequentially) will significantly improve your ability to generate insights leading to business building ideas. I guarantee it.

First The Trousers Then The Shoes Inc. (First The Trousers or FTT for short) is a brand strategy and innovation boutique dedicated to helping brands compete and grow in today’s always evolving attention economy. We help uncover fresh and actionable insights that trigger action, identify innovative ideas to stimulate brand growth and inspire fresh perspectives on businesses and categories. The words our clients use to describe us include: experienced, passionate, terrific, insightful, elevating the thinking, helping us to think differently, highly collaborative, responsive and very recommendable.  Wonder if we can help you solve your business problem, help you facilitate strategy workshops, help train your teams and if might be the right fit and partner for you? Contact us to find out.