What is an Insight? A disturbance in discourse...


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Our widely held beliefs of our understanding of insight are holding us back. Andy Davidson, Head of UK Practice at Flamingo explains all in this presentation.
Presented at APG's Noisy Thinking event on What is an Insight?

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  • By Andy Davidson, Head of UK Practice, Flamingo. Presented at APG’s Noisy Thinking on What is an Insight? Clearly no one knows what an insight is… I could say anything! Well, who better than someone from a global insight and brand consultancy to come and demystify and tell you the answer. Truth be told, I am quite daunted by this question. It’s a lot like someone asking ‘what is a joke?’
  • A visual presentation… Please refer to the ‘Notes on Slide’ tab below for the presenters notes.
  • I asked my colleagues, for their opinions, normally I can ask their opinions about anything from the nature of contemporary masculinity through to the latest music and 100s of them show up, this time… tumbleweed. No amount of free sandwiches could tempt them. That’s not strictly true, some brave souls did step forward and were immensely helpful but it was not the usual turn out. I guess it’s a little bit like being a builder being asked to talk about the nature of ‘bricks’. We work with insights everyday, in a variety of forms, but rarely spend much time thinking about their essence. But it’s helpful to take a step back and appreciate our raw materials… The key time we discuss the ‘nature’ of insights is typically in innovation or positioning workshops, where our clients can have quite prescriptive ideas about what an insight has to look like, how it is expressed. It can be frustrating and feel restrictive. Creating a killer insight (and they are created, not found) is hard enough, without imposing structural rules too. I also think that our lack of clarity on the qualities of an insight are holding us back from crafting better ones, so lets see what we can do tonight…
  • It strikes me that it’s far easier to get agreement on what the purpose of insights is than what they look like. Everyone has read Jeremy Bullimore’s refrigerator joke I take it? Show of hands? It is to my knowledge the first and only insight related joke. “Why is an insight like a refrigerator? Because as soon as you look in it a light goes on” - Boom. We almost all agree that they should illuminate, inspire, cause us to slap our heads and say “yes! of course, that’s exactly how it is!” The trouble starts when you try to pin down exactly what one is…
  • Here are a few I’ve worked with recently: Um, are any of us any the wiser after reading these? Ironic that describing our attempts to describe an insight are so uninsightful… Ultimately these fail the insight test – they don’t make us feel anything. There are two problems here. 1) We are trying to impose structure (for all lots of very good reasons I must add) on something that is inherently formless. Using the joke analogy again, you can’t write a formula for a joke… well you can… but those jokes are typically rubbish… 2) The other issue I see here is we are using such functional unemotive language to describe a feeling, a sensation, an emotion. It’s a bit like this….
  • That does not get me any closer to understanding the true nature of laughter. The other issue is that these definitions often rely on subjective measures. ‘A penetrating understanding…?’ One person’s penetrating understanding is another’s casual observation… So, can we get towards a more insightful definition?
  • So how about this for an insight into an insight? At Flamingo we believe that the job of an insight is to create a ‘disturbance in discourse’. Discourse being the received ways of thinking or talking about a subject. The ‘disturbance’ being a new way to say what we didn’t know how to say before. Examples: For decades laundry detergent discourse was cleanness / whiteness / good mums were those who sent their partners and children off with the whitest whites – that was until someone realized that Dirt is Good… in one of the greatest insights ever made. “What, DIRT is good now? Well this changes everything “ – and you can imagine the possibilities that this opened up. Another example would be Doves campaign for real beauty. So – a disturbance in the discourse. ((n.b I know that Dirt is Good is actually the idea not the insight, but for the sake of brevity it’s a good summary of the real insight which was along the lines of: “I’d far rather my children got dirty and learned something about the world, than stayed clean and didn’t”))
  • Not to be confused with a disturbance in the FORCE… Here’s obi wan, someone has just told him an awesome new insight clearly. Or maybe he has just sensed ‘a million screaming voices suddenly silenced..’ We can’t be sure, and that isn’t important right now, they are after all very similar. In all seriousness we don’t really care how we structure or define insights do we? We just want better ones, ones that help us have better more impactful and engaging ideas. And, it’s clear that we all feel that we could benefit from some more useful / disturbing insights… But our lack of understanding of the QUALITIES of a true ‘disturbing’ insight are holding us back. Let’s take a look at some of the things holding us back from delivering more powerful insights, I’ve identified some culprits…
  • So, I did what everyone else in this room did and ‘Googled’ (oh yeah, bit of product placement, keep the sponsors happy) took all the things people say about insights and smushed them into a word cloud to see what pops. 3 key ones stand out for me here: 1) True 2) Consumer 3) Deep / penetrating These are the culprits, let me explain why…
  • Are you hunting for TRUTHS to uncover good insights? I want to suggest that that is a bad place to start. Now of course, on some level an insight must be true… but prioritizing it above and beyond interestingness is where we come unstuck… Truth is the test not the start point. There a 3 main issues with starting with the truth: 1) Truth can be BORING / banal / uninspiring – real life = dull. 2) The truth is TOO LATE: For something to be true it needs to already be happening, and then it might be too late? What about emergent truth? 3) The truth CONFUSES us: Claiming an insight to be true is disingenuous – Insights don’t exist - Insights are a synthesis – we make them up – we create them from things we find. But if we obsess over consumer ‘truths’ leads us to ‘FACTS’ and observations. How about this as an alternative – think about the opposite of received wisdom and established facts in your category… and then think about what the world would need to be like in order for this thing to be true. Are there circumstances when it is true? Dirt is good – is not strictly, not universally true is it? It’s often totally false. But in a certain world it is.. When seen from a certain perspective. It’s gloriously true… I’ll also bet the idea for DIG did not start with mums talking about their kids wanting to explore the world… or that fact alone would not have necessarily gotten you to Dirt is Good. So, stop looking for truths - a better start is interestingness every time… figure out how to make it true…
  • Welcome to my WORLD! Consumer was one of the biggest words on that word cloud… but Insight doesn't need to come via the consumer - in fact oftentimes it’s unlikely to come from consumers at all, particularly in established categories. Of course there needs to be some consumer relevance in there, but not necessarily the focus. Certain categories are so over researched, so unchanging, or so low emotional investment and consumers have such established ways of thinking about them that it’s difficult to find that spark of disturbance you are looking for. Take biscuits – I defy you to find something new out about the way consumers eat, think, feel, talk about, do with, biscuits. ‘Its only a bloody biscuit’ they cry. But there is something new to unlock and say, it’s just not likely to come from their brains… In our case recently we found the insight via a semiotic analysis of the language used by the range on the packet… There are a host of sources of insight out there: Cultural, brand, category, product, go uncover them all.
  • Penetrating / deep - do we really need to dig deep? Let’s face it, it rather suits the researcher or planner to make ‘finding’ insights as difficult as possible. We feel stupid when it takes us ages to get to an obvious answer. But this idea of depth only makes sense if you subscribe to the idea that an insight has to lie within an individuals deeper / subconscious motivations. The very phrase ‘insight’ – a sight of what lies ‘within’ comes from psychotherapy. So we see respondents getting rigged up to neuroscientific equipment to bypass their consciousness and understand what is going on deeper inside and measure true engagement – and we end up with even more obscure and hard to explain answers – this is not the way forwards. We would argue that some (if not most) of the best insights are surprisingly obvious, it’s just they’ve never been said before. It’s almost embarrassing isn’t it? It cost. Things from the depths tend to be dark and obscure and mysterious… not bright and shiny… Rather than going DEEPER to find new ones – we’d suggest looking from another angle - GO MORE SIDEWAYS… aim for breadth rather than depth… In practice, this means more inputs, more angles on the same topic, think beyond your core target market, go to the fringes, other categories, along as far as you like, anywhere but down!
  • My 10 mins is nearly up. This is the final point I wanted to make in the quest for disturbing the discourse. Is our obsession with ‘THE’ insight - we are overly hung up on, seeking the big singular monolithic insight. Here’s a typical brand model – we have ONE BOX for the insight… Finding the perfect, shorthand way of describing all of this richness and texture is so hard. We are not poets most of us, we don’t write haikus, we don’t have years to craft and perfect and refine this richness down. So what happens is that we try to smush it all into one sentence and Ideas and meaning and texture gets lost and strangled and we end up with banal generic statements that are disrupting nothing. I get why we want to distill it down… to clarify – but we aren’t very good at it. I think we need to be more comfortable with several really good attempts, different ways in.. “it’s a bit like X”, aim to get as close as we can get, rather than the neat single box. And remember over time this insight, like brands, can morph and change, it’s much easier to post rationalize an insight when writing an APG paper than it is to craft it right and perfect first time….
  • So – in summary! And I found the image that sums up what an insight feels like…! BOOM
  • Thanks for listening!
  • If you would like to find out more about Insights or the work we do, please get in touch!
  • What is an Insight? A disturbance in discourse...

    1. 1. WHAT IS AN INSIGHT? APG – Noisy Thinking 4.2.14
    2. 2. This is a visual presentation… Please refer to the ‘Notes on Slide’ tab below for the for the presenters notes This is a visual presentation
    3. 3. Appreciate your raw materials
    4. 4. What we want insights to do is clear
    5. 5. “A Penetrating understanding that provides hooks or clues for brand communication and platform building opportunities” “Thought provoking and true observation on the nature of human thought or behaviour” “A new understanding of human behaviour, as a result of which action may be taken and an enterprise more efficiently conducted” “Must start with an I.. contain a dilemma …Etc, etc…” The confusion lies in the definition
    6. 6. Laughter?: “Rhythmic, vocalized expiratory and involuntary actions” Our definitions are lacking insight
    7. 7. An insight creates a new way of thinking that was impossible before, allowing us to express what was previously inexpressible Insight = ‘A disturbance in discourse’
    8. 8. Not to be confused with…
    9. 9. An insight is…
    10. 10. Truth is less important than you think
    11. 11. Insights don’t (only) come via consumers
    12. 12. Insights don’t need to be ‘deep’
    14. 14. Forget the truth Look beyond the consumer Breadth not depth Beware the monolithic insight
    15. 15. disturb the discourse
    16. 16. Flamingo Postal Address: 1st Floor, 1 Riverside Manbre Road, London W6 9WA Telephone: +44 207 348 4950 (Switchboard) Website: www.flamingogroup.com London Blog: flamingolondon.com Twitter: @flamingolondon