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  • Mark Hallander

How to work with strategic insights

Insights are a well-known factor in marketing. While these authentic truths can make your communication impactful, they are by no means easy to establish. In the following, I will take you through how you can find and use them to create better solutions.

#Insight #Customerinsights #Strategicplanning


What is an insight?

As a starting point, an insight is something true – a human truth if you will – so it is familiar in the sense that it is very recognizable. The best insights are the ones that are deeply rooted in our cultures and are universally true, as they allow us to execute on different levels, ranging from the development of brand platforms to short-term executions.


Therefore, an insight is neither an observation nor a fact. There’s a tendency to mix up observations with insights because we need the information to qualify our choices. However, there’s a fine line between the two, the distinguishing factor being that observations build on what people are doing, while insights are why they do it. Think of it like this:


Observation: People tend to feed their pets twice a day (at breakfast and dinner time).

Although it might not be the most obvious information, this observation is something we can acknowledge as being true.


Insight: People feel guilty about eating in front of their pets.

Rooted in the problem, the insight discovers why the consumer is doing what they are doing – we simply feed our pets twice a day, when we ourselves eat, as it makes us feel guilty. This leaves us with a feeling of surprise that relates back to the accuracy of the human truth.


So, an insight is not an idea as such, but it is most certainly the driver of ideas, as it is able to spark creativity. Think about it: If I asked you to brainstorm on ideas for “feeling guilty eating in front of your pet”, would you be able to think of a fun execution? With the right insight, you can inspire great creative thinking – allowing different creative interpretations to be made.


This leads us to how we can actually work on developing insights.


How do you develop a good insight?

Insights are not easy to gain – it is not like they are falling down from the threes or lying around on the office floor. They require thorough work with data and a great understanding of your business, market, and customers.


While qualitative research is by far the most common way to find and develop insights, you should explore alternative approaches. It might be that you find an insight into working with the product or its flaws. Burger King, for instance, developed a unique print ad campaign that showed its restaurants on fire – a consequence of the fast-food chains flame-grilled burgers.


It could be an insight about the customer or their interpretation of your product, e.g. Marmite – the food spread made from yeast extract – which people “either love or hate”. You could also find insights from pop culture or even legislation.


Tactical vs. Strategic insights

Insights can be used in both the short- and long-term. However, there’s a big difference in the way we use them. The long-term, universal, human insights that appeal to a broad audience can be referred to as an Evergreen – an everlasting, strategic insight like Danish chocolatier Athon Berg’s “You can never be too generous”. On the other hand, if an insight is more short-termed it will no doubt be better in tactical execution, but might not be useful again in a year’s time.


Using insights to create better communication

Finally, I want to introduce a matrix you can use to qualify if the insight is any good, and thereby also qualify the strategic rationale for the communication. The horizontal axis represents how relevant the communication is, while the vertical axis is attention – the higher you get, the more attention you’ll get from your communication.

The Boring One: We see heaps of examples of communication that is not very daring and doesn’t really connect with us. Think of ads like the Dutch stain removal brand, Ajax. The execution is highly predictable, and we have seen the model “Problem leads to Solution (Product)” a million times before. Not highly exciting.


The Crazy One: This type of communication catches us off guard and often in a very humoristic way. While it might not be realistic, you will definitely remember the singing cat, because it surprised you.


The Filmed Brief: This is a very typical model in B2B communication. Think of the financial industry, where generic images – that could be used in any industry – are supported by a voiceover, who is basically just reading the “About Us” section of the corporate website. It’s “correct”, but expected and very dull.


The Strong Insight: This is where the magic happens – when an insight is so humanly true that we can both create relevance to our audience and do it in an attention-grabbing way.


Exploring similar topics

I hope you found this walkthrough useful. If you’d like to read more similar content, check out my post on brand bravery, where I examine what it takes to encourage creative ideas in the organization.

If you’re more into the analytical part of developing insights, I have collected 8 Google tools that will inform your marketing decisions.

On a more literature-based note, this post takes you through the development of branding and gives you 3 practical implications for action.



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