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Guest Column: An insight is a powerful, long-term source of brand growth: Paddy Rangappa

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Guest Column: An insight is a powerful, long-term source of brand growth: Paddy Rangappa

Business leaders use buzzwords lavishly, often to obfuscate poor ideas. At one end are strategic  buzzwords that sound lofty and managerial. For example, ‘synergy’ can describe anything from a merger of two telecommunications giants to a meeting of two executives in the corridor on their way to the bathroom. ‘Low-hanging fruit’ can be just about any idea: stealing market share from a competitor, cutting distribution cost or running a buy-one-get-one-free promotion when sales lag target. And ‘core competency’ could be BMW’s engineering prowess or a trainee’s PowerPoint skills.

At the other end are everyday buzzwords used to add pizzazz to mundane speak. For example, “I want you to take this to a different level. It will require a paradigm shift by thinking out of the box. But I’m all about walking the talk. So, if you can’t get on the same page and display a sense of urgency, let’s take this discussion offline.”

If the buzzword you find most annoying wasn’t mentioned, you can read about the 20 most overused buzzwords in this Business Insider article. But I now want to talk about a particular buzzword that falls somewhere between these two ends: insight. The word has intrinsic appeal to a world inundated with data. According to Bernard Marr, by 2020, we will have ‘44 zettabytes of data’ (a zettabyte is 1024 bytes; for perspective, this article is about 5,000 bytes in size). 

Lack of data may have hindered decision-making twenty years ago; today a surfeit of data is causing the same problem. We have business data, financial data, customer data, shopper data, competitor data, market research data, big data, small data and medium data.

One day someone cried out in anguish, “I’m drowning in data! I need insights!” It was a eureka moment for buzzword champions: they  grabbed ‘insights’ with both hands and began to replace data and information with insightsliterally. So we now have business insights, financial insights, customer insights, shopper insights, competitor insights, market research insights, big insights, small insights and medium insights. For example, data showing that ‘people are spending less in the year after the financial crisis’ is now called a ‘shopper insight’. While the statement may be true, it offers no insight!

So what is an insight? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it is ‘the act… of apprehending the inner nature of things.’ defines it as ‘an instance of apprehending the true nature of a thing, “an insight into 18th century life”, for example’.

There is an aspect of ‘hidden truth’ in these definitions. In the realm of a brand making an emotional connection with its consumers, I like to define an insight as an emotional human revelation relevant to the category that is leveraged to build a brand.

The right insight can shape your brand’s strategy and help it to make a subtle emotional connection with its consumers, thereby increasing its mental availability. In the book How Brands Grow, Byron Sharp argues that the second of these two statements to advertise Goodyear tyres has wider consumer appeal:

  1. Goodyear tyres grip the road and reduce your stopping distance;
  2. Today your child’s life may depend on your stopping ability, and Goodyear tyres reduce your stopping distance and keep your loved ones safe

I submit that this is because of this powerful insight contained in the second statement: ‘When driving, my child’s life is in my hands.’  It’s great because there’s a human revelation (putting a child’s life at risk) relevant to the category (when driving an automobiles) that is leveraged to build a brand (in this case, Goodyear).

But how do you get a powerful insight for your brand? Some marketers simply wait till they stumble upon one. Others leave it to their ad agencies to generate one in response to the creative brief, perhaps believing that generating an insight requires expertise in psychology and creativity, both of which they lack.

Both approaches are wrong! An insight is a powerful, long-term source of brand growth; its development should not be left it to chance. Nor should this responsibility be abdicated to the agency. Teamwork is critical to get the best from the agency’s creativity and the company’s consumer knowledge (and no expertise in psychology is required). By following a simple but rigorous process, which employs brainstorming techniques, it’s easy to generate insights, starting with your business problem. The marketer should lead this process, which looks like this:

You can read more about how to develop insights and leverage them in your marketing and advertising to ignite brand growth in the book Spark – The Insight to Growing Brands, to be released by Simon & Schuster India in mid-May 2017. You can read more about Spark here.

(The author is a Marketing consultant)

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of


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