Definition: What is an insight?

Insights can help us better understand our customers and make a business impact, but what is an insight? What’s the definition of an insight, and how is an insight different from a fact?

“We use that word “insight” regularly without thinking about it much,” said Brian Monschein, Voxpopme vice president of research and host of the market research podcast “BRIght Ideas.” “When it comes to it, it’s also the crux of why we are here – to uncover true insight from consumer research.”

What’s the definition of an insight?

“I think it’s always a good idea to step back and force yourself to look at what you do,” Brian said. “And maybe think about things in a different fashion.”

And that could include refreshing what certain words mean and how we get the most out of them in our market research strategies.  So, let’s look at what an insight is. To start, Brian said it’s good to know there’s a difference between an insight and a fact.

"It's really easy to fall into a trap and think you have an insight, but you don't."

The definition of a fact is something that exists; it can be observed and is reality.

“An insight takes that fact and finds a deeper, intuitive understanding of it,” Brian said. “An insight tends to be less apparent.”

Once an insight has been found, it often shows in the form of having uncovered an unmet need or found a better way to satisfy an existing need, Brian explained.

“In a sense, it’s about finding the ‘why’ behind the fact, which can lead to an unexpected solution,” Brian said about what an insight is.

Read next: What is Jobs to be Done?

Aligning definitions

“Getting to an insight is the hardest part,” said Marnie Steffe, insights and innovation director at Elida Beauty and a member of the Voxpopme Advisory Board, on an episode of the market research podcast “Reel Talk.

That’s why it’s important to make sure everyone has the same definition, she said.

“A data point is often labeled as an insight,” she said. “And I think it’s important to remember that a data point is not necessarily an insight.There’s a lot of data that goes into creating an insight or informing an insight.”

And at times, insights don’t hit you right in the head, Marnie said. They are more subtle.

Understanding the landscape

At the most basic level, insight is any information that changes how you think about your consumer, brand, or competitor, said Siamack Salari.

Sometimes we have to dig deeper to get an insight.

“It’s really about when we use qualitative methods to dive and dig deep into people’s lives and probe them,” said Ben Grill. “Asking them questions in creative and unexpected ways, looking for those moments of friction and contradiction that might unveil something that we didn’t necessarily know going in. I might be a bit controversial with this, but I don’t think insights can ultimately be tested, measured, or researched. All you can do with insight is take action or find inspiration from it.”

Fiona Blades breaks it down like this:

“We would look at a finding and how that leads to an insight. And then what the implication is there for a client.

So, a finding would be a particular fact. For example, not many people are going in store towards the end of the purchase cycle, but they are going online.

And an insight would be derived from a number of these pieces of information or facts. So, we would be finding out that not only were people going online, but they were looking for a very specific product.

The insight would be that actually, the battle for which brand you’re going to buy has already been won before the end of the purchase journey. Because people know what they want to buy, and they’re just looking online for the best deal. 

Read next: Consumer study: How do consumers feel about fast furniture?

So why do we need insights?

Insights help companies inform their decision-making and determine what should be done next. That can’t be done just by understanding the facts.

“Insights help you understand your target audience at a much deeper level and helps you communicate with them,” Brian said. “That can result in stronger brand loyalty and higher revenue.”

"Insights are important, and we need to make sure we are uncovering them on a regular basis."

Spotting real insights and then turning them into meaningful action can drive business impact and results. For example:

  • Uber started after realizing the issues consumers had with taxis. “They built out a model that significantly reduced that friction.”
  • Snicker’s ad campaign, “you are not you when you are hungry,” drew on the insight that consumer shop differently when they are hungry.

Read next: What are actionable insights anyway?

Steps to uncover an insight

Brian covers tips on his podcast on how to be successful in research, and guests share tips on finding better insights on our market research podcast “Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show” as well. Those shows are just two resources to hear from experts on ideas on how to uncover insights in an ever-changing world.

As a foundation, the following steps are worth considering as well:

Looking at the data and facts that you already have access to

“The trick is to take all these data sources and triangulate them and look for the common threads,” Brian said. “Look for any discomfort the consumer has.”

Map out the day in the life of a consumer

“Look at those day-in-the-life moments to better understand consumer experiences,” Brian said. “For example, you could have them record what parts of their day are like. Maybe what it’s like they go to a store and go shopping or use your product at home. Have them use video to document challenges they encountered along the way.”

Being a relentless observer

“In my fast-food days, I would just sit in a restaurant and watch consumers as they come in,” Brian said. “Watch how they look at the menu, what they ordered, and how they got through the payment process. Just by seeing their behaviors, I can see their friction points.”

Friction points can include:

  • slow processes
  • processes that are not enjoyable for the consumer

“And that’s the start of finding an insight,” Brian said. “Now I know where to focus my next quant or qual project  when I get back to the office to see if that friction is happening at a more expanded level.”

Asking “why” gets us to understand people’s reasoning behind an action and allows us to see their thought process, which can lead to an insight.

Bringing insights to life

“Once you found those insights, you want to use storytelling to bring them to life,” Brian said. “Use that video that you have and let that consumer tell the story for you.”

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