How to write an insight.
Has there ever been a word in marketing more over-used and less understood?
“The capacity to gain an accurate and deep understanding of someone or something.”
- Dictionary definition
In reality insight now 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 really 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 just work out how to write a good insight or that they just appear in the world and all you have to do is catch them like a Pokemon.
But this isn’t true. Writing an insight is a craft that requires a process.
How do we fix that?
We can learn to write great insights.
Learning a process can help save us from poor insights and perhaps help to make creative work, innovation and marketing communications in general much better.
Just to be clear, insights are not:
A piece of data
A statement about the world
Insights 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.
How do you 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 example 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 which feels interesting for a brand to resolve.
The 5 why’s is a good exercise for this.
Start by asking why and then ask again, and do this 5 times over to see how deep you can go.
Don’t be afraid of the dark.
This often ends up in births, deaths 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 told 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 workout 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
For example: I want to be more sustainable because I want people to think I’m a good person but it’s easy to ignore because sustainability is just an invisible activity with no social status rewards.
Solution: Who Gives a Crap – toilet paper so good looking it is on display in your home
For example: 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 am 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
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 a tension 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 doesn’t mean the insight can’t be big and emotional but also be reasonable.
So there you go.
A quick guide to writing an insight.
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.
I want, because, but.