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Data. DRIVEN. Insight.

Three innocent little words. Anybody could give you a perfectly adequate definition of each one.

But put them all together and they become fairy dust. Sprinkle anywhere and your standing in marketing will be magically transformed.

Until Tom Goodwin comes along on LinkedIn and tries to spoil all the fun.

A lot of people in marketing and advertising read Tom’s posts. So when he said on LinkedIn a few days ago that he’d never actually seen a Data Driven Insight and asked for an example, he wasn’t short of replies.

Initially, most people commenting were likers. They understood what he meant by ‘Data’ and what he meant by ‘Insight’.

So they immediately got the point of the challenge and they were as confident as Tom was that examples would be in short supply. “Data is the map, not the treasure,” said one. “We use data to back up gut instincts and common sense”, said another.

Then a few brave souls nervously put forward their examples. One got slammed down with a “That’s not an insight”, which prompted another to suggest Tom sets up an @insightdecider account for him to sit as judge and jury on others’ efforts.

Gradually a trickle became a stream became a torrent. As you scroll through the comments, you can sense people thinking to themselves: “Er, actually, yes, I can think of an example or two.”

Some pointed out you can take ‘Data’ to mean almost any fact or figure. It can certainly be quantitative or qualitative, so it’s not just about Big Data or AI. It’s about any kind of information gathering.

Those coming from more scientific fields sounded incredulous about the whole inquiry, until someone explained that this wasn’t a debate about science, it was a debate about marketing and advertising. And in those fields, ‘Insight’ means something quite specific.

Except it doesn’t, of course. The insight purist is perfectly clear in his or her own mind what an insight is. It’s a human truth, often hidden in plain sight, that explains why people do what they do.

Beyond that, it’s something you can put to good use, to create an opportunity, change people’s opinions or grow a brand.

In the broader world of marketing, insight no longer has that specific a meaning. It would be good if it did, but it doesn’t.

That’s why I decided to call this blog ‘NEED insight’, so people would know what kind of insight I was trying to write about.

And in the real world, of course, ‘insight’ simply means a deep understanding of someone or something.

It’s also the capacity to gain that understanding. Which brings us on to ‘Driven’.

That was the heart of Tom’s challenge. In his post, he acknowledged the importance of insight supported by data and insight validated by data. What he demanded was an example of insight driven by data. You can hear the underlining in his sarcasm.

‘Driven’ is another word that has been overused in marketing to within an inch of its life. We have to feel we are driving everything everywhere. Nudges aren’t enough for us, we want to give our brand one almighty great shove. We are the masters of our own destiny.

And that’s particularly true of ‘Insight’. It’s in the sharpness of the strategist, the righteousness of the researcher, the potency of the planner. It’s not the data, it’s me. I’m driving the car.

Then again, it’s probably all just semantics. My favourite comment on Tom’s post was from Bernie O’Dowd: “What does that even mean? I can’t even wrap my head around that. Good times.”


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