OPINION29 June 2022

The write stuff: how to prepare the perfect insight

B2B Opinion Trends

Crafting the perfect insight is no easy matter; it needs to be painstakingly structured in order to deliver a worthwhile outcome. Tash Walker of The Mix provides a guide to achieving an insight that truly inspires.

Blackboard with buzz words and a key labelled

Has there ever been a word in marketing more over-used and less understood than ‘insight’?  The dictionary definition is this: “The capacity to gain an accurate and deep understanding of someone or something.” In reality, however, insight often doesn’t really give you an accurate or deep understanding of anything at all. A lot of the time, insight suffers from what I call ‘busy mum’s syndrome’.

What is described as an insight is more usually just a platitude, a stereotype, or an observation. They often feel lazy and, unsurprisingly, don’t result in much exciting work. I think this is because no-one gets trained to write them.

People assume that you can simply work out how to write a good insight, or that they appear in the world and all you have to do is catch them, a bit like a Pokémon. But this isn’t true: writing an insight is a craft that requires a process.

So how do we fix that? We can learn to write great insights by using a process that can help save us from poor insights, as well as perhaps helping to make creative work, innovation and marketing communication much better in general.

Just to be clear, insights are not any of the following: a piece of data; an observation; a quote; a statement about the world. They must contain three things: a desire, a rationale and a tension.

Tension is especially important; it is why a piece of data, for example, isn’t an insight. A piece of data alone doesn’t position you to do anything – it is merely a statement of fact. Most insights go wrong because they don’t hold any tension.

So here’s how you can write a great insight in three easy steps.

Step 1: The format

The format we train our strategists to begin writing insights is this: I want…what do you desire, what’s your goal or ambition? Because why do you want this? But what’s the tension or the one thing that’s holding you back?

For instance, here’s one relevant to me: I want to lose weight because I had a baby and I am now lacking confidence in my appearance, but I often feel too tired to go for a run.

This is a good basic insight structure. It gives you the desire and the rationale, and importantly it indicates what tension is holding me back.

Step 2: Go deeper on the rationale

To make sure the insight feels rich, you need to work at the rationale. The reason why is very important, because the harder you work at this, the more likely you will be to find an emotional space that feels interesting for a brand to resolve.

The ‘five why’s’ is a good exercise for this: Start by asking why and then ask again, and do this five times over to see how deep you can go. Don’t be afraid of the dark; this exercise often ends up in birth, death or divorce, it’s how you know you are getting somewhere good.

Here’s mine again: I want to lose weight…Why 1: Because I want to look good in my clothes. Why 2: Because I want to feel more confident. Why 3: Because I’m afraid of what others think of me. Why 4: Because I want to be accepted Why 5: Because I don’t feel good enough.

I warned you it can get pretty dark… You don’t have to use the fifth one, just work out an appropriate and rich space for your brand.

Step 3: Address the tension

This is the critical part for a brand. What can you help someone overcome? You can see how identifying the right tension has allowed certain brands to really cut through with consumers.

For example: I want to work because performance is everything to me and I’m cash rich but time poor, so I don’t have time to go to a gym class. Solution: Peleton – don’t worry, you can do it at home.

Or, I want to eat more healthily because I want to feel better in myself, but I am time-poor and often don’t know what to do. Solution: Mindful chef – home delivered balanced healthy meals.

Tensions need to be addressable by your brand. One easy way of thinking about this is to write out a whole host of different reasons that might be holding someone back, or providing a tension that prevents them from achieving their goal.

So for mine this might be: I don’t have time because I’m too tired; I’m worried about what I look like when I’m wearing my gym gear; the gym isn’t convenient to get to from my house; I don’t feel safe running at night; I don’t feel confident that I know what to do at the gym; or I don’t feel motivated because I find it hard to measure my progress.

You then need to review your insight to make sure the tension is something that is both real, and also something the brand can logically do something about.

There is no point having an insight that has got zero chance of your brand being able to do anything about it; this doesn’t mean the insight can’t be big and emotional, but it also has to be reasonable.

Once you have mastered this simple structure, you can then think about crafting and copywriting the insight to be more distinctive. But get the basics right first, go deep on the rationale and don’t forget an addressable tension; remember: I want, because, but.

Tash Walker is a founding partner of The Mix