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A Modest Proposal: Defining "Insight"

Originally published

February 24, 2021

Written by

You know how you can tell a real marketer?

They get wrapped around the axle about the word “insight.” Literally, I’ve seen two otherwise mature account planners leave Happy Hour in a huff over this.

I won’t name names, but I also recently saw this definition: “An insight is a disturbance in discourse.”

On the one hand, that definition is crying out to be made fun of. On the other, marketers absolutely should be arguing about what an insight is, because it’s the most important enabler of marketing success, and it’s magical. There’s no easy recipe for it.

You know what is NOT an insight? A report. A spreadsheet. A data point. A fact. Just because it’s true doesn’t mean it matters. Another thing that’s not an insight: A made-up idea, no matter how show-stopping.

So of course I have to give it a try. How’s this definition: An insight is an actionable truth. It starts with observable facts, connects them through association, and uncovers hints of causality. You can’t find an insight without discipline, imagination, and curiosity.

Data tells you “WHAT,” but it takes data rendered through the prism of human understanding to get at “WHY.” And knowing “WHY” is critical, because it tells you what to do next.

Can we stop arguing about this now? No? Fine, good.

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, last updated on

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