Powerful insights: how to generate them?

Consumer insight is invaluable to marketers. All iconic brands have been built on strong insights, which continue to liberate brand growth for a long time. Yet, we know how rare great insight is. How can we increase our odds of success, power our brands with a range of powerful insights? 

Post by Prasad Narasimhan, Managing Partner Asia, based in Bangalore.

Back to basics

What’s an insight? Scores of opinions abound, but we at the brandgym use a simple definition. We see insight as a “penetrating, discerning understanding (about consumers) that leads to action”.

While ‘penetrating’ and ‘action’ are common to most definitions, the ‘discerning’ element is crucial. It’s how great marketers use their experience and judgement to create new possibilities for their brands. 

Consequently, the best insights are actively invented, not tamely waiting to be discovered. 

Scarcity the Liberator

In today’s digital world, too much data is the problem, not too little. But there are situations where marketers face a scarcity of data. Such scarcity can surprisingly liberate; it allows us to ‘surface for air’ from the whirlpool of data and exercise those muscles of discernment as marketers.

One recent example is a repositioning project for a skin care brand with its citadel in conservative Saudi Arabia. Direct consumer immersions were not possible for a variety of reasons. 

  • Women would not speak to strangers easily, especially on a topic of external beauty
  • Beauty was often (societally) conflated with modesty, hence not appropriate to discuss openly.
  • The kingdom had issued restrictions on research that explored social issues & opinions.

Secondary data was also polarized; between ultra-liberal western views that talked to change, and ultra-conservative views that stuck to traditional narratives.

Given these constraints, we used our 3600 Insight method to find new sources, e.g.:

  • Qualitative researchers who had worked in Saudi but were now in other markets. 
  • Journalists & social media commentators based in the Middle East.
  • Interviews of Saudi women who had ‘broken through’ and were blazing new trails.
  • Moderated Zoom discussions where we were invisible, ‘flies on the wall’.
  • Semiotic decoding of the most talked-about ads in these markets.
  • Social conversations around ‘milestone events’, such as women getting the permission to drive.

We unearthed a treasure-trove of observations related to socio-cultural trends and the beauty category, which then served as material for us to recombine & reimagine with. At the first pass, we created 15 insight spaces that all seemed very compelling.

Sense & sensibility

We then ran through a series of ‘obvious in retrospect’ ideas which related to the unique climatic and socio-cultural truths for this region. These helped ground our insight spaces in the reality of the market we were addressing.

Discernment is key

Finally, we ran combustion sessions with brand & agency teams to combine/refine these ideas into more holistic concept spaces. In this, we used our collective discernment in three ways.

  • Ran each insight space past our ‘FIRE’ test: is it Fresh, Inspiring, Relevant, Enduring
  • Ran the resultant concepts past a cultural sensitivity test, given the conservative nature of the market
  • Visualized the growth (core brand extension) opportunities that presented themselves 

This resulted in a robust shortlist of five insights, laddered up into full-fledged positioning concepts. Each of these concepts tested superbly with consumers in a branded concept test, wowing consumers on all seven out of seven hurdles we specified. Five solid insights leading to five solid growth spaces.


Great insights are rare. They are everyone’s task, too important to be delegated to CMI alone. Instead, we must invent insights boldly & collectively, whilst staying honest to consumer knowledge. Empathy, imagination, brainstorming, and task-focus – all help to generate high-quality insights. 

Conventional insight processes based on research still hold good, but we’d like to supplement them with motivated imagination. As Don Quixote might have said – “Insights – Charge!”.