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Lessons Learned From Marketing Mistakes: Not Everything Is an Insight

Marketers love insights. In principle, insights are a powerful tool. When a company can uncover a piece of information that’s truly unique, unexpected, and previously unknown and use that information to appeal to their customers in a new way, the results can be game-changing.

In practice, the word has lost a lot of its meaning. It’s earned the status of a buzzword – applied to any piece of actionable data or KPI, whether that information changes anything about your approach or not. As marketers, we need to stand our ground on what constitutes an insight and, more importantly, how to find them.

What is an Insight?

As we mentioned above, an insight is a new piece of information that you might discover about your market, your product, your customers, your buyer personas, or some other aspect of your organization and the people it serves. More importantly, an insight is:

  • Relevant
  • Actionable
  • Previously unknown

Let’s talk about what an insight is not. If you find a new piece of information that isn’t relevant to your product or at least to your industry, it’s not an insight. This happens all the time in the course of basic research and analysis — you might find that most of your customers are from California, but your company is 100 percent cloud-based, so it doesn’t really matter where they’re from.

An insight also has to be actionable to do you any good. You might run a restaurant in a state where restaurants are required to close at 10, but your Google My Business page is full of customers saying they wish you would stay open later. Since there’s nothing you can do to address their complaints, you’re not gaining anything by knowing that your customers are unhappy.

Finally, an insight has to contain new information. Too often, marketers will use the word “insight” to describe the simple data collection and analytics that they perform on a daily basis. The fact that people spend more time on the internet between 6 and 10 p.m. isn’t an insight, it’s just a data point.

Examples of Real Insight

A true insight is an observation that results in a significant change in your approach to your product or customers. Before the 2012 Olympics, Nike launched its “Find Your Greatness” campaign around everyday people striving to be their best. The insight that Nike tapped into was that ordinary people care just as much about self-improvement as athletes, even if their events aren’t televised and their numbers aren’t as flashy.

The dating app Hinge found another powerful insight when their data determined that 81 percent of Hinge users had never found a long-term relationship on any dating app. Despite the popularity of apps like Tinder and Bumble, Hinge realized that the people who used those apps were disappointed by the fleeting relationships they found there.

Hinge leveraged this insight into their “Let’s Be Real” campaign, billing themselves as the honest solution to a superficial dating world. Hinge managed to discover that people on dating apps don’t want a perfect match, they want a real connection — something other apps seemed not to realize.

Finding Real Insights

The first step in finding genuine insights hidden in your marketing data is realizing that they won’t come around every day. Most of the information you gather will take the form of simple observations. It’s still useful — finding out what time of day your customers are online or which channels they prefer is still information you can act on — but it’s not the same as a true insight.
A true insight will have to arise naturally as you pore over the data, but just because you can’t force an insight doesn’t mean you can’t stack the deck. Gather as much data as you can and look for patterns. Survey your existing and prospective customers and try to find out their fears, hopes, and motivations. Conduct interviews and focus groups. Most importantly, keep your ear to the ground and your finger on the pulse of your company and your industry. The closer you pay attention, the more likely you’ll notice something you can use.

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