When Insights are Anything but Insightful: Making Creative Briefs Better

Blog Post
May 09, 2018

It’s practically a rite of passage. Every copywriter or art director kvetches at some point (and many never stop) about the quality/usefulness of a creative brief. Sometimes it’s an ongoing problem that can only be solved by an overhaul of the document itself—or the infusion of new personnel who simply know how to write better, more actionable briefs.

Quite often, the critical problem is with the Insights section. The Market Situation, Target Audience, Reasons to Believe…those are all solid, obtainable, and fairly “grasp-able” ingredients. They tell us something about the product and what the audience is, says and does. But understanding the “why” behind what the audience is doing, feeling, buying (or ignoring)? THAT takes time, interrogation (in different forms), and legwork—to get in the first place and then translate into grist for the mill that creative teams can use to produce a great idea or three.

"This well-cultivated bit of knowledge led to dozens of strong, campaign-able ideas. And that’s what genuine insights do: they’re springboards to breakthroughs that are very much on-strategy."

Research plays a part, but nowadays it’s harder to come by than it used to be, unless your client list is all Fortune 500 types with vast budgets. So, we’re left too often with phrases like, “Our audience wants peace of mind should they lose their job or become unable to work,” which are so generic they’re practically flatlining on arrival. Or worse, we get insights that sound like client outcomes as in, “Our target really wants a product that does X,” not honest audience nuggets.

At a former agency, I came across an excellent brief for Cub Cadet riding mowers and the core audience insight was so relate-ably articulated I still use it to make a point 15 years later: What set the Cub Cadet best prospect apart was their desire to have a lawn that looked like it took them all weekend to accomplish, but they did not spend more than a few hours doing the work on Saturday or Sunday. They wanted a mower that kicked ass but didn’t need the $4,000 John Deere when one costing half that would do just fine. They weren’t obsessed. They were realistic, and their free time was precious. A lawn that looked pretty decent (and still allowed them to watch the ballgame on Sunday afternoon) was good enough for them.

Related: Decoding Customer Needs with the Buyer’s Journey Framework

This well-cultivated bit of knowledge led to dozens of strong, campaign-able ideas. And that’s what genuine insights do: they’re springboards to breakthroughs that are very much on-strategy.

A few years ago, here at Harte Hanks, we handled eCRM and assorted digital creative for Silversea Luxury Cruises, and we pored through client research and traveler feedback for something that would really help the brand stand apart from Crystal, Regent and Seabourn cruise lines, who were their main competition.  

Useful nuggets abounded because the client did a lot of information collecting and push marketing, but they didn’t always do the collating and hard-data work that went with it. So, we did it for them. And we found a common thread, besides large amounts of disposable income, that connected elite travelers. People able to spend $15,000 or more for a 7-day cruise for two want the onboard experience to be absolutely magnificent in its indulgence and the off-ship itinerary to be absolutely bespoke. They wanted a journey that was personally legendary.

That formed the basis for a slew of ideas around how to entice travelers to explore the areas, villages and “hidden treasure” locations beyond the main destinations. Plus, it spawned novel ideas for itineraries that enabled people to learn the history, culture and cuisine of regions at a level of depth you couldn’t get anywhere else unless you took up residence for a month or two.

Research, feedback loops, in-market testing and real-world experience produced these findings for two very diverse clients—findings so distinct and differentiating they could form the foundation for literally dozens of great, cross-channel ideas.                   

3 tips for getting and recognizing genuine insights

  1. Insights, especially the best ones, can often be revelations, so you have to keep your mind open to the unexpected when digging for them.
  2. Negative insights can be just as useful as positive ones. Think of how often we start with the obstacles in marketing, like why a product is perceived as “uncool,” and then find ways to overcome them.
  3. Genuine insights are paradigm shifters. They usher in new ways of thinking about a product or service. Consider how Nike’s, “Just do it” changed the concept of fitness for a majority of people who were anything but hardcore athletes.

As creatives, we may lament the lack of genuine insights in a briefing document, but that doesn’t mean we should ever stop trying to make sure they’re there in the first place, even if we have to convince our own organization to spend the time, money, and effort to uncover the insights if our client can’t deliver them to us. To paraphrase a longstanding campaign, itself built on superb insights, they’re absolutely “priceless.”

How would your marketing change if you knew what your prospects wanted right now? What if you knew what they valued highly, but that your brand wasn’t delivering? Or if you knew what your prospects needed to know to make a buying decision?

Those are the questions we are answering for clients with our Buyer's Journey Framework, based on the Jobs-to-be-Done theory and developed in partnership with Strategyn.

Learn more about how to uncover insights about your customers and their journeys here: Decoding Customer Needs with the Buyer’s Journey Framework.