Saturday, April 30, 2011

How to write an insight statement

I have written various posts about insights, definitions, how to know when you have one and what to do if you don't have one. If you would like to read them just type 'insight' into the search box at the top of this blog and see three pages of posts appear. And despite a handful of requests, what I have so far failed to write about is the way I believe an insight should be articulated or written out.

So here goes...

Let's start with an example of an observation I came up with for a book seller client who shall remain anonymous (their name starts with W and ends with H and has H-SMIT in the middle). The observation was this: People come into your book section to read books and not to buy books.

I don't care what you think. This was a profound observation which even I missed the significance of as I spluttered it out while showing a bunch of clips.

"Wait! wait! Say that again." said the head of merchandising (or was it books).

So I repeated what I had said.

There were six clients in the room. All paused and looked at one another. I could see their minds whirring over what the implication of such an observation could be. This was 1997, just before Borders were planning to invade their/our shores. And very importantly, this was a potential insight.

It was an observation which had been sitting there right under their noses all along yet it taken everyone completely by surprise. Very importantly, it made instant sense to each and every one of them. There was no convincing to be done. I didn't even need to show them too many clips.

Here is exactly what I said, again: "People come into your book section to read books and not to buy books."

The challenge now was to convert this observation in an insight statement. And an insight statement has two key ingredients: 1) Because: explanation and 2) But: tension.

Here is an example I made up earlier:
I like to keep updated on a broad range of topics because by learning, I grow. But I don't have enough time to go in-depth into topics, so I browse for headlines.

The tension in an insight statement is critical because it tempers, grounds and reality checks the statement from within. It forces you to think precisely and not blindly ingest the insight. And if there is no obvious tension, coming up with one is a fantastically rewarding exercise which will force you to thoroughly deconstruct and understand your insight. Oh and don't get hung up on trying to embed an action into the insight statement. Implications and actions need to be sprung from rather than explicitly captured in the statement.

Now back to the book department observation which I am going to try and turn into an isight statement:
I like to take my time when buying books because I enjoy reading at least a few pages from each to help me bench mark and make a choice. However, I feel guilty about the time I spend looking and not buying.

It is simple enough to read but took me 45 minutes to set out the obervation as you see here. And I'm not even sure it will be the final version. More tweaks are needed with the code.

Now over to you. How would you set out an insight statement? What do you think of the above? Please share.



  1. Very interesting, Siamack, and thank you for sharing.

    I find I like reading a few pages out of a book because, while the topic of the book may be of interest, and potentially worth the investment, I struggle with the writing style of some authors. So while some books flow well for me, and are easy to enjoy ... essentially, like conversing with an old friend ... others can be a struggle. Therefore, for me, the insight would be as follows:

    I like to read a few pages from a book before buying it because, for me, some author's styles flow more naturally. If I find the topic and writing style of an author is appealing ... I make the purchase. However, if their style is too much of a struggle for me, I will simply pick up the next available book on the topic and see how that flows. In the end, the cost of the book, for me, is a minor investment, but the time I will put into reading it is the bigger investment ... so I prefer to assure that time will be as enjoyable as possible.

    1. Me parece muy razonable esta respuesta.

  2. I may be missing the point you are trying to make here by locking down too much into the example but here's my two pence worth anyway...

    For me an insight is something the organisation can use to help profitable change behaviour (both theirs and their customers)

    So in this example the observation was that folk’s sample books in WHS but don't go on to purchase.

    To get to an insight and subsequent marketing strategy surely the next question is not 'why does a customer feel the need to read before they purchase?' but the behavioural change question 'why doesn't the customer make a purchase after they have read a few pages?'

    The insight should be based around how we can help customers buy (physically purchase and buy into the brand emotionally) and provide guidance on what barriers we need to overcome both operationally and comms wise

    In WHS case I suspect the majority of people used the bookstand as a means to pass the time and hadn’t really thought about buying a book - this is especially the case in their stores located in rail stations

    But there are other occasions when they need help to pass the time with either a book or a magazine when they are not next to a newsagent/bookstore

    so the insight might have been - people use WHS to pass the time - we need to help people pass the time when they are not near one of our stores

    To help people buy their books WHS should therefore think about changing the way they sell - how about by time passing occasions e.g. for long indulgent occasions or short bite size chunks for the commute

    This should help plant a need to purchase in the same way supermarkets do by noticing a behavioural need/occasion and bundling products around it e.g. Summer BBQ

  3. I posted a comment. Did you read it or delete it? Best, Sergio

  4. Sergio I am at a complete loss as to what happened to your post (as I have already emailed you to explain) but I do remember your question: why do insight statements need tension?

    In my experience, tension is what stops people - clients - simply running off with an idea and without reality checking it. It also reveals an 'opportunity'. Let me explain with a fresh example. "I always have some Haagen Dazs left in my freezer because we never seem to finish it all. But finishing it might get me to replace it". The point here being that people just can't eat the last, solidly frozen 20% in a crushed tup oushed to the back of the ice box. And they can't justify buying more HD until they finish what they already have - creating a cycle of non-purchase.

    I'd love to hear more examples like this - with or without tension...

  5. making plans for a Friday night can be a choice between hanging out at the bookstore or going to see a movie because my cohorts are curious types but most booksellers view their competition as the other bookstore. The bookstore that allowed me to hangout during college is a place of nostalgia because it brings back memories of those important years but companies seem to look at themselves as sellers of stuff.

  6. To the Haagan Daaz conundrum: how about a design feature where the tub can collapse in on itself as you eat bits of the icecream. So that when you open the freezer you don't see the seemingly "FULL" tub but the eye is drawn only to the remaining 20% and that seems more achievable -easier to finish

  7. Siamack
    On your commercial website you show a few clips. One in particular of breakfast time in a household with two young boys. At one point the mother shouts "do you want apple or orange [juice]?" to which one of the boys shouts "apple". The mother knowing that the other will want orange pours this in the second beaker, but in doing so notes "there's not much left!" This begs the question what would have happened if the first child had chosen orange as well? - a mini drama about orange juice???
    Now let's translate this into an insight statement - "I am in the habit of giving my children a choice of fruit juice in the morning but I am not in the habit of making sure I have a variety in stock"
    What's the possible commercial implication here? Should orange juice be packaged in a see through container so the mother instinctively knows when it is running low. Will this act as a reminder to buy more and so enable her to provide the variety she wants to her children? As a result will this lead to increased purchase frequency and so both greater sales in the category and market share for the brand which opts for the transparent packaging?

  8. Hi Siamack!

    Talking about insight it is clear that we are talking about hidden motives determining consumer’s behavior, but what is the nature of these motives?

    Having considered carefully the examples of "strong" insights I realized that they all fit into the scheme of conflict between drivers and barriers of consumption: “I need ..., but ...” And mainly emotional barriers are involved. In fact, what we are looking for is a strong driver (need or want), which could be satisfied by our brand, as well as the hidden barrier, which stops consumers.

    Thus I realized that insight is an understanding of unconscious conflict between the needs and/or attitudes, which is a hidden root of undesirable consumer’s behavior.

    Let’s have a look at Guinness case:
    Guinness grew strongly in 1990s: ‘Performance in the USA was outstanding with Draught Guinness depletions up 31%. However, by early 2000 the brand was no longer enjoying the same growth rates due to undesirable consumer’s behavior – it was well loved but forms only a small part of their drinking repertoire.
    We know that our target audience is concerned about their physical appearance, particularly as it relates to attracting the opposite sex. And that reasons for not drinking Guinness were cited as the drink being ‘heavy’. This was fed by the product’s dark appearance and strong taste. At the same time four of the top five beer brands in the USA are light.

    In this example, consumers' attitude “stout is too heavy” was the barrier against "pleasure to drink favorite stout”. The insight statement is: I love stout and Guinness is my favorite one but it’s too heavy to drink it often.

    Such a conflict is a hidden root, which causes undesirable customer behavior. By resolving the conflict, we remove the barrier to the purchase of our brand, which offers the desired benefit.

  9. Thank you all for fantastic comments

  10. Hi all, what about this: I love reading books, I also love visiting bookstores bacuase it makes me feel like being a smart, intellectual person, but since books are quite expensive, I must be very careful with my choices

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