You Have to Hear Before You Can See

Ed Burghard

“Seeing is believing, but the feeling is the truth.”  …  Thomas Fuller

The most effective advertising and promotion programs are created based on a unique insight that helps you translate your place promise into a heart and mind opening communication. But, what is an insight and how can you tell if a successful communication program can be built around it?

An insight is a discovery about your target that allows you to connect emotionally. It can be a discovery about their needs or habits. It can be about what they believe, value, desire or feel. It is a unique understanding that you can potentially turn into a competitive advantage by leveraging it to create a communication idea.

Communication based on a meaningful insight is a powerful way to connect with your target and get your place promise internalized. Creative Agencies are masters of converting insights into communication ideas. This is part of their campaign development process. In fact, whenever an Agency presents a campaign to you for consideration, you should always probe to understand the unique target insight that is underpinning the communication idea their recommendation.

But how can you tell if the insight is good enough to translate into a great communication idea?

Here are some questions to ask yourself –

  1. Is the insight compelling enough to overcome a barrier to believing my place promise?
  2. Can I connect my place promise to the insight in a way that feels natural and not contrived? Is it competitive and not parity?
  3. Is my creative team excited about developing messaging and promotional material based on the insight? Can they see the connection between the insight and a reason for the target to select my location for capital investment?

So how do you get insights in the first place? Here are some questions that will hopefully stimulate your thinking.

  • Is there something about my location that can be considered the standard of excellence?
  • Where does my competition come up short when compared to my location?
  • Are there a unique asset set in my location that will help my target succeed beyond their expectation?
  • Is there a world-class asset or company in my location that can lend credibility to my place promise?
  • Why do my most loyal companies like being in my community?
  • How does my community impact employees?
  • What is the most important thing my community is known for?
  • Who are the most credible third-party people or organizations that would support my place promise, and why would they?
  • How do people feel living and working in my community?
  • Is there a non-traditional concern that locating in my community helps minimize?

Not surprisingly, insights come from knowing your strategic target well. It takes work and good listening skills to hear what your target needs and some creativity to figure out how your place promise helps meet their need. But, when you have a strong insight and build a communication idea from it, your marketing and sales efforts are greatly enhanced. You begin differentiating your community from the competition, and over time you strengthen the image and identity of your place. This leads to an increased opportunity to compete for more capital investment deals.


What are some of the unique insights you have into how capital investment decisions are made? Share a story of how you turned an insight into a winning communication idea.


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14 Comments so far

  1. Melisse May

    November 15, 2009

    This blog brought to mind an insight I received from a European colleague. We were working on a project together in a joint partnership from my American and his German company. He described America as “energetic and somewhat willful” and Europe as “mature and steady”. He literally pictured America as more adolescent consistent with our younger history as a country. This wasn’t all negative in his mind as he liked the energy if not the willful. He extrapolated this image into the partnership and thought our approach to decision making was typical of our culture. Whether his view was fair or not (and I could argue it wasn’t), I was startled to learn his predisposition to our partnership and interactions. Just knowing where he was coming from helped in future communications with him. Net, understanding place branding can have a big impact on day-to-day business interactions.

  2. Kenneth J. Weiss

    November 24, 2009

    One of the most effective tools I have ever seen for making insights come to life is focus group video clips where the participants are reacting to messaging. Too often committees and decision makers let their personal bias dictate messaging. Watching real targets react to messaging is paramount.

  3. Terry Prime

    December 9, 2009

    The last comment is very important because it highlights the biggest obstacle to getting a true insight– overcoming internal bias toward your brand. Brand champions are expected to focus on the positive, and, at times, this can lead to underestimating the impact of the negatives on brand success. Objectivity (or seeing the brand clearly from the customer’s point of view) is essential. Also, market research is an artificial situation, where interviewees, knowing their being observed, consciously or unconsciously present their opinions as they wish to be seen. One option is to come out from behind the two-way mirror and interact with interviewees– asking questions that need to be answered and listening carefully. If carefully managed, this can be a powerful way to get the truth about what customers think.

  4. […] Megalomania – Trying to be everything to everybody is a sure recipe for disaster. But, economic development professionals can fall in love with all the assets in their community […]

  5. […]   […]

  6. Hania Jurdak

    February 23, 2013

    One useful strategy I’ve found over the years for finding ad insights is tapping into the brand philosophy itself.

    If that brand philosophy is solid, archetypally rich and positioned as a recognized truth, returning to it can help generate ad insights organically, and ones that suit the target audience.

    Hope this is somehow helpful. Excellent blog post. Thanks.

  7. Hilton Barbour

    March 2, 2013

    Ed – insights can literally come from anywhere. Remember, an insight isn’t just an observation “Moms are busy”, “Teens are distracted by a proliferation of technology” but a profoundly deeper interpretation that comes from that insight “Moms are busy so struggle to ensure they keep time for themselves as well as servicing the needs of their jobs, children, friends and husbands. This leaves them with feeling of resentment and sadness”. I’m using this to be illustrative of what is an insight versus just an observation. An insight should leave your recipient (a client, a creative team, an NPD leader) saying “I’d not seen it that way before and that unlocks a new opportunity”. Too often I see observation paraded as insight.

    Insights can come from the category – why is it growing or stagnating, a trend – why is this trend gathering legitimacy and momentum (like Harlem Shuffle and Gaungam Style), your loyalists or your detractors – why does our brand mean so much or so little to this group, from a complementary category – what dynamics could we borrow from that category because we share some similarities, your competitors – can we unpack the insight driving their business and does it have more or less credibility/opportunity than ours.

    Be ruthlessly curious and insanely deliberate in saying “So What does that mean” when presented with an observation. That will get you to insight.

  8. […]   […]

  9. Graham Robertson

    May 5, 2013

    Hi Ed,

    Very niece piece.

    The best insights I find are told in such a compelling way that makes me say “I thought I was the only one that felt that way”

    The dictionary definition of the word Insight is “seeing below the surface”. To get deeper, keep asking yourself “so what does that mean for the consumer” until you have an “AHA moment”. What are the beliefs, attitudes or behaviors that help explain how they think, feel or act in relationship to your brand or category. It’s not just data, trends and facts are insights. Facts are merely on the surface—so they miss out on the depth of the explanation of the underlying trends or feelings that caused the data. (e.g. In 1964, US teenagers saw the Beetles as an escape after the JFK assassination) Insights help tell the story, paint the picture or inspire the creative juices. Insights need to be interesting or intriguing. My challenge is to think beyond specific category insights and think about Life Insights or even Societal Trends that could impact changing behaviour.

    An Insight Tip I use is to try to start insights with quotations and the word I, which forces you into the consumer’s voice. See if it works for you.


  10. Shalin

    May 5, 2013

    I too have experience on insight development when we were working to develop new communication. As Graham said, yes insight is one thing that makes you say ‘AHA’. In hindsight, you also get a feeling, that the insight is so TRUE for your consumers and you just couldn’t see it that way! A genuine insight has a strong potential to differentiate the brand on emotional grounds from the competitor and also build a strong connect with the consumers saying – Yes! That’s the brand that understands me, its meant for me.

  11. “Insights come from knowing your strategic target well.” Truer words were never spoken, Ed. My background is in B2B marketing and we’ve determined that there are 5 critical insights for buyers who are making complex or high consideration decisions:

    Priority Initiative Insight: What priority triggers this buyer’s search for the solution you market

    Success Factors Insight: The results/outcomes that the buyer expects as a result of purchasing the solution.

    Perceived Barriers Insight: Reasons this buyer would be unlikely to purchase your solution

    Buying Process/Journey Insight: What steps will the buyer take to evaluate his/her options and make a decision? What resources will they trust (including people and written materials)? Who else will be involved and what is this persona’s role in the decision?

    Decision Criteria Insight: The top 3-to-5 capabilities that this buyer uses to compare alternative approaches/options and make a decision.

    As you note in your article, there is generally just one insight that is the foundation of the strategy, but these are the five places to look for it if you are marketing a B2B solution. Companies should insist on understanding the source and nature of the insight before they evaluate any marketing strategy.

  12. Juha Mattila

    May 9, 2013

    Great discussion. This my insight:
    Insight of situation requires understanding. Understanding of one´s possibilities, adversaries possible venues, environments effects and other stake holders behavior. More complex the situation more different approaches and rolegaming is needed to reach for understanding. With experience comes personal gut feeling (=vision) but it is restricted to one persons knowledge, experience and skills to analyse. If team clicks it may reach shared insight of situation which is always better than individual belief.

  13. Sumit Roy

    May 15, 2013

    My experience with the word ‘insight’ has been that it is overused and abused to the point that statements that claim to be insights are devaluing the word.

    A bit like ‘positioning’ got devalued in the 70s. And “big idea” in the 80s.

    Today every research summary, sales analysis or interesting connnection gets presented as an insight.

    Probably the worst offenders are those in market research. They are under such pressure to find insights that every section summary has to include the word.

    The next group of offenders are board room yes men. They are rarely ever in actual touch with consumers but ever willing to pitch in their “insights”.

    If you are feeling left out, just stroke your chin and say “That was insightful”. Or if you did not understand the presentation fish for inspiration with “What’s the insight here?”

    Rant over.

    There are several fascinating processes of Insight Development.

    Almost every planning consultancy and advertising agency has one.

    My favorite is a process called ‘The Aha Tree’ which combines consumer engagement with ethnography and creative thinking. It’s more an idea generation process as you engage with the consumer, with no questionnaire in sight. Let me know if anyone is interested in a link to an article on the process.

    I try not to use the word insight and prefer to help the person I am coaching “find the obvious emotional truth on which the brand is based/could be based”.

    Then they start using their common sense and get to the truth quite easily.

  14. Raleigh Green

    May 16, 2013

    @Ed, I agree with you. Advertising and branding, while very much intertwined, require a bit of a different approach, and the insights to accomplish each task necessarily take somewhat different things into account. Branding ideally should be looking at the entire picture and set the strategic direction based on client objectives and discovered ‘insights’. Advertising, while similar, in practice advertising usually builds upon a pre-existing brand framework, and develops insights into how best to tactically engage target audiences (e.g. how best to invest budgets to accomplish xyz). As you know, this is all part of a continuum, but to conflate the two is not how the realty is often practiced. Ad ‘guys’ often claim to do branding, but what I usually see ad agencies do on branding is not good. And branding professionals, while able to create some nice ads, are not really the ones you want to handle large media budgets to make ad investments across various media, measure their impact, adjust and revise, etc. Social media is just a media format, nothing more or less, and branding and advertising both need to account and use them…..

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