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Why data is not insight

One thing marketers are not short of is data. We are drowning in it - from Google analytics and Meta data to qualitative and quantitative research, retail / sales data, customer satisfaction data, shopper behaviour, social media monitoring and the rest.

Data is, at least potentially, knowledge. But it is not insight. Insight is something different. It is seeing, amongst the towering mountain of information we have to hand, what really matters. The nugget of gold, if you will, amidst the rocks.

We can even enlist A.I. in our information gathering quest, should we so desire. I asked chatGPT why insight matters in marketing, and it trotted out the following:

Insight is essential in marketing because it enables marketers to develop a deep understanding of their target audience, their needs, wants, and motivations. With this understanding, marketers can create more effective marketing strategies, campaigns, and messaging that resonate with their target audience.

Here are a few ways in which insight is valuable in marketing:

Targeting: Insight allows marketers to identify the characteristics and behaviours of their ideal customer, which enables them to create more targeted marketing campaigns.

Messaging: Insight helps marketers understand the language and messaging that will be most effective in connecting with their target audience. This can help them create more persuasive and compelling marketing messages.

Innovation: Insight can help marketers identify gaps in the market and develop new products or services that meet the needs of their target audience.

Measurement: Insight can help marketers measure the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns and make data-driven decisions about how to optimize their efforts.

All of this is true, but not very illuminating. Not particularly insightful. It tells us nothing about what insight is, why it matters, or how insight achieves what mere relays of information cannot. It is, in fact, an excellent example of information rather than insight.

In the long-ago days, back when consumer insight was all the rage, and us market research managers changed our titles to consumer insight managers, my colleagues and I spent far too long debating the definition of insight. Words like penetrating, illuminating and discovery featured heavily.

Twenty years on I think it’s simple, as is often the case with insight. For me, insight can be thought of as a bridge between objective and opportunity. An angle or take on the data which is particularly pertinent to your business (or situation) at a particular time and for a particular reason.

Insights don’t need to be complicated, and often aren't, and they still need to be based on facts. But insight is springy. It is what leads to ideas. It is the answer to the question of "so what" that data itself doesn't provide.

Insight lies in the interpretation of information within the context of a particular problem or brand or category. To move from data to insight involves creatively combining information with experience and internal knowledge to find the opportunities to achieve your objectives.

Information is ubiquitous… everyone has access to largely much the same data, at least from their own perspective. Insight, on the other hand, to misquote someone famous*, is seeing what everyone else has seen and thinking something different.

*most often attributed to Albert Szent-Gyorgyi in Irving Good, The Scientist Speculates (1962), talking about research/discovery


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