How We’ve Abused The Word ‘Insight’ Into Irrelevance

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Since the marketing world has made ‘insight’ its favourite buzzword, everyone is obliged to work it into everyday business conversation.

How we’ve abused the word ‘insight’ into irrelevance

These days, market researchers are under enormous pressure.

Every slide in the their presentation is expected to deliver an ‘insight’.

At best, what a well done exploratory research gets to is a ‘discovery’. Sometimes several interesting discoveries. Something you did not know before. And these have worth.

But they are not yet insights.

You, see, because a true insight for a brand involves a creative process. Consumers don’t speak in insights. Insights have to be deduced.

There’s an “aha” moment that connects other dots (that may not have been discovered during the research) but were always there. It’s unlikely the market research agency knew of the existence of those dots unless they’ve spent years on the brand or relevant category.

The connection comes in the form of an universal emotional truth, which was also so obviously always there, but no one, so far, has made the connection, yet.

Sounds complicated, but it happens in a flash. And, it invariably solves the problem.

There are now even insight generation techniques designed to engineer that flash.

But since the marketing world has made ‘insight’ its favourite buzzword, everyone is obliged to work it into everyday business conversation.

“What an insightful presentation!” Really? What problems did it solve?

“Thank you for sharing your insights”, people often write to me, and I cringe. I’ve usually just shared things they already ought to know.

When in doubt of how to impress, say “insight”, seems to be the rule of thumb.

If brand managers were so keen on finding insights, I wonder why they don’t directly engage with their consumers and prosumers. Because the chances of finding an insight do not increase with the sample size.

It increases with the level of curiosity with which you engage with the consumer you want to understand.

You don’t even need a formal questionnaire. You just need to observe.

And if you want a term that impresses, use “ethnography”.

Because that’s what this process of high quality engagement and observation is called.

Sumit Roy Thank you, Anokhi, Wilson, Drukta. Especially, Drukta. I am just a year younger than you and feel your pain! I often run workshops for people who are fresh MBAs. A simple rule of thumb makes explaining how brands can be built very easy. No one is allowed to use jargon during the workshop. If they do, they pay Rs. 10 or get a kick. Including the girls. I then deliberately use a piece of jargon to see if they've understood the rule, catch myself out and get one of the participants to kick me on the butt. Ice broken, the workshop goes along swimmingly. People start talking sense as they are only allowed to use words that are already in the dictionary, or they are using that word in the way it is defined in the dictionary!
06 Mar 2016 Reply
Thondup Tsering Sherpa ( a.k.a Drukta) Today I am 65. That means I've seen / heard / read the landing on the moon ; revlon's selling dream not a product ; the Beatles ; the Emergency (in India) ; the rise and fall of "reddifussion" ads etc etc. ; and before I forget , Cadbury's 1990's classic ad and of course Aldous Huxely's essay on advertisement .... and it amazes me how much deeper this so called market research bit is going .... it's fascinating and at the same time provides for laughs when I overhear some of these so called wiz boys and girls spouting terms like Mr Roy puts it ... it makes them look more shallow and foolish than informed
06 Mar 2016 Reply
Wilson Mathews (Guest) A well written article. So glad someone decided to talk about the overused 'insight'.
04 Mar 2016 Reply
Anokhi Mishra (Guest) "Insight" really has become an over-used, blanket term used for everything under the sun.
04 Mar 2016 Reply