Hello the Internet,

As most of you, I share my opinion online on a daily basis (thank you Facebook for changing my life), but I don’t often have a real chance to discuss something at the very centre of my life as an Insight expert. Insights are mentioned all the time. I have worked in many departments of advertising agencies, from the creative side to campaign delivery, to the analysis and reporting on KPI.

On this journey, I obviously met a many people, designers, developers, account managers, strategic planners and marketing directors – at first their jobs appeared completely different but in reality they are all connected in some way to the Insight world. And throughout my young life I’ve seen people using this world without a full comprehension of what it entails, so this article is an opportunity to share my humble definition of what an insight is, what it means, how we find it, and above all why is it so important?

I was never really good at understanding theoretical definitions, and most of the time people understand things much quicker when you use a real life example. Nonetheless, I will give it another try. If you refer to the Oxford Dictionary, you will find ‘Insight’ defined as:

 “The capacity to gain an accurate and deep understanding of someone or something”.

I don’t know about you, but that seems pretty broad to me. Understanding is often a question of point of view in marketing, no? And accuracy depends on the ability of your team to get the right information, with no bias.

In the following example, we get closer to reality, and it has the benefit of being slightly more prescriptive:

“A thought, fact, combination of facts, data and/or analysis of data that induces meaning and furthers understanding of a situation or issue that has the potential of benefiting the business or re-directing the thinking about that situation or issue which then in turn has the potential of benefiting the business.” 

from Unleashing Hidden Insights – Vriens and Verhulst 

Then you have this 2004 definition, by Jeremy Bullmore, someone I regard highly for his work at WPP. He defines an insight as: 

“A new understanding, probably of human behaviour or attitude, as a result of which action may be taken and an enterprise more efficiently conducted.” 

I invite you all to read his post on the WPP platform:

“Insight is like a refrigerator, because the moment you look into it, a light comes on.”

Still, here I sit surrounded by these quotes and definitions, but I cannot fully wrap my head around the notion as the subject is still extremely broad. I spent a lot of time trying to decipher the meaning of the word insight, then I met a strategic planner from TBWA in Paris who shed light on this mystery. In 5 minutes, he made me understand the notion, which is what I wish to share with you here. I will not begin with the definition and then illustrate it with examples, instead we will look at an example first, for you to start understanding the inner layers that compose the definition of the insight.

I am going to ask you a question that sounds a bit simple, but bear with me.

“What is an M&M or a Smartie?”

It is nothing more than a sweet, chocolate coated candy shell with fancy colours and a letter M. This M&M is, for me, a concentration of insight. If you look at the chocolate market back in the day, or even now, it’s easy to notice that it is extremely cluttered. If I were an investor, I would think twice before creating a company able to thrive in this market, as it would take a great amount of effort and a lot of investment just to emerge.

Or I could do something else, I could think outside the box and start questioning chocolate. What are the limits or issues with chocolate? Mainly –  it’s sweet and it helps us when we feel down. But chocolate has one major flaw, apart from the potential to make you fat, if like me, you cannot stop at one square and you swallow the entire bar at once (look at that, I just rambled and I created an insight). Now back to my sweet example, chocolate has flaws: it melts in your hands, it melts in your bag; even worse it can get everywhere. Try to walk in LA in summer with a chocolate bar in your bag; I swear by 1pm you will have a bag of hot chocolate. So chocolate melts, fine, not a big deal; you can have other kind of snacks during the day. Or not! And you can meet a genius that is going to see this as an opportunity. CHOCOLATE MELTS? EUREKA! AN ISSUE TO WHICH, AS A BUSINESS OWNER, I CAN OFFER A SOLUTION. Boom, the guy created a chocolate sweet that doesn’t melt in your hand while you are consuming it. From nothing tangible a man built an iconic product, a trans-generational brand, and even better M&M’s patented it. Now you start to get a better idea, hopefully, to where all those lines are taking you. 

Let’s look at another example, and for this one we are going to France. You take your car, but you’re low on petrol so you stop at Total to refill. Why Total? Hey why not, it was on the way, it was easy. Total is part of those utilitarian brands for which people do not have any preference (apart from budget reasons), they are not especially loyal, not because they don’t want to but because it doesn’t really matter where you refill your car as long as you can finish your journey. Total noticed this pattern, they noticed that people did not really care about the brand they were buying from, and they were smart about it. They did not go full blast in a TV advertising campaign to increase their brand awareness; it would have been futile anyway. They let the reality sink in and they started thinking about how to use this attitudinal information. They came up with something brilliant! They decided to embed this information in their baseline, make it specific to the brand; they transformed this information into a message, a unique identity. The day after, the new baseline of Total was: Total, you don’t come to us by chance! And Voila again, pure insight.

I could go on and on with examples ranging from Apple to the smallest independent business you have never heard of, but these are, for me, the best examples of conveying the essence of an insight.

An insight is like a key; it is a solution to unlock a market issue or a behavioural problem; it can come from an infinite number of sources, from your own judgement and ability to perceive a new pattern in a consumer’s consumption funnel or from a machine sending data. It applies to all layers of a business, from the R&D to the communication department. The only element of certainty is that it is a nugget of information, but information is not always an insight. If I tell you it is sunny today, that doesn’t mean I’m giving you insightful information. An insight is the way you choose to treat this information, the way you decide to use it, and the solution that you are going to invent from it. An insight is abstract by definition and this is the reason why so few people completely grasp it, because it is not something tangible, because it can be in front of a marketing director’s eyes for years without even realising it. It can be transparent, it can be free of charge, it must be simple. It is the way you are going to turn your observation of the sociologic and marketing world into an actionable plan that can or will revolutionise the way people are behaving. It is a never-ending process, a way of perceiving actions from your friends, colleagues, consumers, a way of doing things a certain way. It is a trait of character, it entails being like a sponge, absorbing everything around you, being inspired by what people do and say on a daily basis, being attentive, but above all, it is something new and it is a solution; maybe something that people and consumers have not even noticed, and this is the reason why insight is so intricately connected to Innovation. 

This is what we do at Black Swan Innovation & Insight. Before analysing and trying to find the insight, we listen, we are open-minded, we observe, we immerse ourselves into the largest conversation on Earth, we tap into the most important focus group humans have ever created; – in other words, we embrace social media and internet communications in all shapes or forms. We adapt the technologies to use the most appropriate channels for each brand, we take time to look for details, for patterns, for dissonance in the data. We unify data from around the globe, whilst also being able to restrict it to a region.

We crunch figures, we read tweets in many different languages, we browse Instagram, we scrape forums, and we collect anything that can get us to that ‘Insight Miracle Moment’. That moment when out of huge amounts of information, we surface the key element and transform it into business-wide solutions, into something easy to action, a simple answer to a complex question. In one line, an insight is the thought process leading to a solution, it sounds natural, it sounds logical, it is something to which our clients will often say: why didn’t I think of that?

Marine is a planner at heart. She spends so much time observing the world, understanding behaviour, analysing online conversation and deciphering patterns within pools of data, many think she could be part of the Matrix. After 2 MScs in Advertising & Marketing, Marine joined Black Swan to help the Insight & Innovation team with their interstellar insights.