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How to find and use insights

2 February 2021

All great brands and campaigns are based on insight. They are the key facts that inform memorable and effective brands and campaigns, giving the vital knowledge needed to help connect with people’s hearts and minds to move them to action.

Macmillan Cancer Support’s latest campaign is a great example of the power of using insights in action and is based on two major bits of insight. The sector insight that as many as 100,000 people are at risk of missing a cancer diagnosis, reducing their chance of survival, because of the disruption caused by Covid-19. Plus, the human insight that Macmillan nurses have a tenacious side – something which led to their grit, skill, ingenuity, humour and tenderness inspiring the refreshed brand personality ‘compassionate warriors’ and the campaign proposition ‘Whatever it takes’.

But where do powerful insights like this come from and how do you go about finding them so that you can embed them in your charity’s work too?

Who finds insights?

Advertising agencies often have a function called ‘planning’. Their primary function is to find consumer insight that helps the creative teams produce work that is not only highly memorable but relevant to the target audience. A planner will typically distil research into a proposition which will form the cornerstone of a creative brief. The proposition is the key message the creative needs to express, often supported by what we’d like people to think, feel and do. It creates the spark that ignites great creative work.

Whilst planners are predominantly focussed on marketing communications, a ‘brand consultant’ or ‘strategist’ takes a wider view. They’ll be looking at how a brand can come to life through the whole customer experience from products and services to culture and innovation, as well as fundraising and marketing communications, visual identity and tone of voice.

Some larger charities have audience insight or planning functions, but in smaller ones it may be up to the marketing or communications manager to unearth insight.

So where do you find insights?

There are many places you can turn to establish insights. Here are some of the most common.

Desk research

When developing a brand or campaign you’ll need a good grasp of the target audience, cause and sector. Start by reviewing key documents such as the corporate strategy or impact report, any relevant policy or Government papers, as well as audience personas, brand tracking and guidelines.

It’s also good to know how the subject matter is currently being reported, so review recent news coverage or search for relevant content, whether articles, blogs or even TV shows.

Top Tip: When ploughing through desk research, look for key facts, stats or common themes.

Primary research

Often overlooked but essential, this is about understanding the perspective of your primary audience. Whilst this was once achieved by visits to services or a day at a charity helpline, it can also be achieved by a series of telephone or Zoom calls. If this isn’t possible turn to case studies or video content for inspiration and understanding.

Top Tip: Again, look for patterns or similarities. What unities these people in terms of their experience of a cause or shared beliefs and values?

Market analysis

This is what ensures your brand is differentiated and is about examining brands in a similar market, across sectors. Look at what they deliver, as well as what they stand for and how they present themselves in words and images. Mapping them onto different axis can help to identify market gaps and opportunities.

Top Tip: Draw inspiration from outside the charity sector, don’t just stick to your closest peers – or competitors. 

Qualitative research

Qualitative research is very common to understand people’s perceptions, thoughts and feelings or to test new ideas, brand positioning and creative. The most well-known forms are workshops and focus groups, but they can also take place in pairs or triads for harder to reach audiences or those with lived experience, who may be less comfortable opening-up in a group setting.

Top Tip: Qualitative research can still take place via zoom and online panels are becoming increasingly common, where people log into a small forum for ten to fifteen minutes a day to answer questions and feedback on stimulus.

Quantitative research

Statistical and commonly acquired via online surveys, with existing and target audiences quantitative research is great for when you need concrete evidence for big decisions, such as a name change.

You can set-up bespoke surveys or add questions to regular consumer panels or omnibus surveys of a representative sample of the UK population. Or tools like Survey Monkey are great when budgets are limited.

There are also tools you can subscribe to such as TGI and Mintel. Target Group Index data is available quarterly and covers consumer attitudes and motivations. Mintel has a host of reports available on consumer behaviour. Or Google and Facebook also have analytical functions.

Top Tip: Don’t forget General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). If you’re working with a market research agency, it’ll be easier for you to send the survey link out to your own audiences, to avoid the complexities of having to transfer data.

How to use insights?

During a brand project you might feel like you are scaling a mountain of research, but you should always look to cherry pick the best insights. Aiming for three core insights (human, sector or societal and organisational) to prove the brand is authentic and differentiated is a good place to start and for campaign development think about picking out insights which prove the proposition.

With audience insight less is more, and the right ones can go a long way.

So, when you’re head deep in research don’t forget the aim should be looking for ways to connect with your audience’s hearts and minds and using that to ignite a creative spark.

For further information of brand measurement and evaluation please visit our Brand 360 guide or check out our latest Brand Breakfast – now on-demand.

Image: Timothy Rhyne on Unsplash

Dan Dufour

brand strategist, Red Stone

Dan is one of the sector’s leading brand strategists. He has worked on brand development across all sectors including Rightmove, London 2012 and Cancer Research UK. He's best known for his award-winning work across all corners of the charity sector, from Shelter and Parkinson’s UK to RSPB and Scope. Dan established CharityComms Brand Breakfast, proudly supported by Red Stone. He is an author of our best practice guides to branding and integrated campaigns.