What people are getting wrong about insights

The term ‘insights’ has become an industry buzzword, but its real meaning has been lost in the process, argues Chris Kocek in his new book. He explains his definition of insights and how to generate them

‘Insights’. In some industry circles, the word has become shorthand for a sliver of detail that was right in front of you all along but that competitors somehow overlooked anyway – right?

Not really, according to Chris Kocek, founder of branding and strategy agency Gallant, and former strategic planner at BBDO New York. His new book Any Insights Yet? is both an explainer about what he believes is and isn’t an insight, and a practical guide to producing them yourself. Because, the book illustrates, you might gather data or observations, but an insight – a mix of these elements and more – is ultimately something a planner or strategist produces.

He finds that the strongest insights arise from a holistic approach, and that a statistic or a survey isn’t going to lead to much on its own. It might sound obvious to people whose work revolves around insights, but as he testifies in the book’s introduction, not everyone is on the same page: “There have even been times during kickoff meetings, after I’ve just barely learned the basics about the brand and the challenges they’re facing, when the client will casually turn to me and ask, ‘So … any initial insights?’ Of course not.”

For those who are already enlightened, there are still useful lessons in the book, such as how to actually sell your insights to other people, and the benefits of conflict and tension, whether in data points or in focus groups. Below, he shares some insight into – or rather, observations on – one of the modern advertising industry’s most misunderstood concepts.