When I first started out, strategists, called account planners back in the day, were defined as the finders of the golden nuggets/piercing insights/human truths. We were taught to judge our insight discoveries as something akin to discovering the meaning of Stonehenge.
These insights, we were told, were only good if they drastically changed people’s understanding of the world around them, their own self-perceptions and/or their perception and understanding of your client’s product. With all due respect to those who taught me (or my own youthful naiveté), YOU LIED!
While these insights do exist and we find them every once in awhile, these types of insights are like really great albums—most artists only have a few in them over the course of their career.
I’m not saying that as a profession, strategy fails miserably daily. Instead, I’m saying that while we should always strive to find those Holy Grails, we should also recognize that there are also other judging criteria to assess our insights.
Here are a few of mine:
1. Does it turn your head?
I had a dog once that would go crazy every time I’d ask her if she wanted to go for a walk. Before a complete tail wagging frenzy, she’d always cock her head to the side to signify “Did I just hear you right? A WALK?!?!?!”
If an insight causes a human to respond similarly, go with it. You’re probably on to something. These insights cause us to think, “Hmmm, I never thought about it that way” or “What? Did I hear that right?” <insert slight turn of the head>. While maybe not revolutionary, these insights make people see things in a different light.
They may seem small at the time, but who knows where they may ultimately lead? One that comes to mind is the insight that drove the Got Milk? campaign in the 1990s. Everyone accepted that milk did a body good. But, the insight that really got them thinking (and buying) was “milk is really important when you don’t have it.”
2. Is it hiding in plain sight?:
Some insights we know to be true, usually experience everyday, but never actually recognize and/or articulate. They usually are dismissed because they don’t seem big enough or they aren’t supported by research. Sometimes, research can actually help bring them to bear. Years ago, I worked on a personal electronics client whose main revenue came from car stereo systems. In an early briefing, we were told that their research-defined target was men, 35-54, with household incomes of more than $75,000.
Having been a teenager who spent plenty of time careening around my hometown in cars that were completely decked out with “nice systems”, I knew that this target was not right. Yes, it was a gut feeling, and after much discussion, the agency all recognized the obvious truth: we needed to talk to teenage guys who would go hungry to afford “nice speakers”. Luckily, the client agreed to this strategy and let us go in a that direction. This insight wasn’t hidden deep in our collective psyche, but to that client it was hiding in plain sight.
3. Does it just need publicity? Some insights are recognized by many, but for whatever reason, they’ve never been deployed. One of my favorite ads as a kid was a perfume ad for Enjoli—“the 8 hour perfume for the 24 hour woman.”
Truth be told, not a good ad, but I loved the song. Looking back though, I realize it was based on an insight that the female experience in America had changed. Women were regularly the mom, the wife, the breadwinner, and the vixen. At the time, I’m sure everyone knew that, but this ad leveraged that insight into our culture for one of the first times. I think a similar thing is starting to happen to fathers in America. Recent campaigns by Dove for Men, Clorox and Tide have diverted their attention away from the usual Mom themes and opted to highlight Dad’s roles in taking care of the family. As someone who is watching my male friends take a more active role in the household than our Dad’s did, I know these communications to be a true reflection of something happening at the moment. It’s nice to see it getting some publicity.
I know that many insights fit all of these criteria, which is my point.
Judge your insights by a variety of factors. Strive for the unknown, unrecognized and/or mind-blowing ones, but don’t throw the others out. They may be the beginning of something much bigger than you can imagine at the moment.
VP of Strategic Planning