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Ideas Strategy

Moving from observation to insight

Chris Emond

Too often, data described by marketers as “insights” are really just observations. This presents risks for brands as - given the right sources of information - most any brand or agency can identify the same observations. Real insight requires uncovering a human truth that penetrates an audience’s hidden nature and has an ability to drive businesses forward, from product development through lower-funnel communications. Insights are powerful and therefore elusive, though they are findable if you know how to dig.

While there are many perspectives on how to uncover insights, one methodology Essence has found to be effective breaks an insight into three pieces - a truth, a motivation, and a tension. While insight mining can begin in a very Essence way - immersed in data and analyses - digging deeper, requires data to take a back seat to hypotheses, intuition, and interrogation.

A truth is an indisputable observation. It can be a behavior or mindset backed by data and found through reporting tools or research. For illustrative purposes, I’m going to create a hypothetical audience: “The Focused Frenzied Parents” (FFP), a group 30 to 42 years old, who use smartphones at a rate 2x greater than other parents. Any team with access to MRI can find that mobile usage data point. Brand managers can use it for briefings, creatives can concept around it, and media teams leverage it while building campaigns. It’s an important truth, but there’s more to the behavior.

The motivation behind a behavior provides greater depth to an audience and finding it begins with asking “why”. Why are FFP’s so reliant on mobile technology? The answer comes through hypotheses and intuition. Like a science experiment, we need to form a hypothesis and consult multiple resources to test it. Desk research, trend reports, observing and talking to people, will bring us closer to understanding a motivation. One example hypothesis could be that FFP’s smartphone usage is so high because they grew up in an era when mobile phones were ever present. It’s an explanation, but it’s all truth and no motivation. Another hypothesis: Having young children requires FFPs to constantly stay organized and mobile devices allow for immediate access to organizational tools. This one feels more motivational and, with some investigation, can be backed by trends and data.

Marketers can build good campaigns knowing that Focused Frenzied Parents use mobile devices to organize their busy lives, but so can their competitors. One additional element will transform this information into a strong insight: a tension. In other words, there’s always a “but.” A tension is not just a data point or a trend. It’s a human feeling, belief, or conflict that’s identified through some detective work and interrogation, mostly in the form of qualitative research. Journaling or Focus Groups are great ways to surface a tension. For FFP’s, it may be found by removing access to the thing they rely on most. For example, asking a group of FFP’s to not use their mobile devices on weekends for a month and to document their experiences could uncover unique perspectives. The journals would probably reveal feelings of insecurity and disorganization, but eventually may uncover positive perspectives as the behavior became more ingrained. What if the removal of smartphones actually gives FFP’s more quality time with their families? In that case, we’ve identified an internal conflict and arrived at a strong insight:

“As a parent of young kids, my phone is my lifeline. It keeps me organized and even helps keep my children distracted sometimes, but this lifeline is sacrificing my ability to enjoy quality time with my family.”

As marketers, can we find a way to help parents to stay organized, while enjoying quality family time? Answering that question is a great start to making marketing and advertising more valuable to the world.