“The task is not so much to see what no one yet has seen, but to think what nobody yet has thought about that which everybody sees.”

I found this quote when I was searching for some insight about insights. It’s been attributed to both Arthur Schopenhauer and Erwin Schrödinger, neither of whom I know much about beyond the repeated “Schrödinger’s cat” references on The Big Bang Theory.

Regardless of who said it, it serves as an explanation of what an insight should be. And as someone who has “insight” in his job title (and has had it in previous job titles, too), I suppose I should be an expert in insight.

But I’m not.

Frankly, finding insights can be pretty hard. Finding them takes a lot of work and effort. Thinking what nobody yet has thought about that which everybody sees takes time, and I have a deadline! Or incomplete information. Or no research at all. Or no direction.

Sometimes, you come up empty, and just end up with observations. Or restatements of that which everybody already sees. It’s disappointing when that happens.

We should always strive to find insights — real, actual insights, and not just observations — because that’s where the power comes from in marketing.

I attended a presentation here at our local AMA chapter recently by Robert Malcolm of the Center for Consumer Insight and Marketing Strategy at the University of Texas at Austin. He spoke about the importance of insights, and made a remark about insights that has stuck with me: “When you get it right, they last.”

We tend to want to come up with a new insight for every piece of data that we have. Or to label “observations” about data as “insights.” But we don’t have to. If you’ve found a good insight, it should last.

We in the marketing world are awash in data. We can count and gather numbers on just about anything nowadays, and sifting through all of it takes time and energy. Sometimes the data is just the data. There isn’t always that aha moment, when you truly find why something is the way it is.

A few other speakers I’ve seen in the past have provided other perspectives that are helpful when looking for insights. An insight is often an emotional thing, because it “need[s] to touch hearts, not just win the argument.” Data and facts win arguments, but touching someone’s heart creates movement.

I’ve heard we should “shift from a product insight to a human insight.” Put your audience first and understand what motivates them. What is it about their humanity that you can tap into to create a connection, rather than peddling an insight about your product or service? Be willing to reexamine how you think about your product and how you thought it would be received by your customers. One of my favorite examples of this is from Febreze, a product that P&G originally thought of as a cleaning product, but that consumers used and perceived as a “reward” when the cleaning was done. It was the scent you sprayed at the end of cleaning to signal that you were done. That’s an interesting insight into consumer behavior.

For many in the B2B world, “close enough is good enough,” however, because we typically lack the research and resources of consumer products giants that help pave the way to uncovering strong insights. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t out there, and that we can’t try to find them.

Insights don’t just sit there on the surface. You have to do hard work to find them. You have to ask “Why?” a lot. And then ask again (and maybe again) until you get to that insight.

I’m not sure that I’ll ever be an expert in insights, but I’ll always strive to think what nobody yet has thought about that which everybody sees. And I’ll know if I’ve found a good one, because it will last.

About Patrick McGill

Patrick McGill is our very own Sherlock Holmes. As the managing director of strategy, Patrick puts his detection skills to work by helping our clients develop successful strategic plans that more effectively communicate with their target audiences. When he’s not immersed in research you’ll more than likely find Patrick traveling – those travels have taken him to all 50 states. You can email our inquisitive Mr. McGill at patrickm@2rm.com.