At McKim, we often talk about insight. Insight-powered strategy. Insight-inspired creative. Insightful content (which is what I’m trying to provide right now). What do we mean by that, and how do we get there?

For us, data is where it starts, not where it ends. How many times have you reviewed data — website visitor stats, customer journey analyses, audience demographic and psychographic indices, a/b testing comparisons, industry trend spreadsheets, KPI reports, etc. — and wondered how it all applies to honing your message and sharpening your marketing? 

Similar to defining your brand around key points of differentiation, what we look for in data is anything out of the ordinary. Honestly, sometimes it’s just not there. But other times, it’s the oddest little anomaly that puts the strategic-creative thinker on a path that leads to useful insight. Finding it is a game changer.

Shut up… I just bought a Subaru yesterday!” 

True story. We were presenting target profiles to a new niche financial services client. Our independent audience analysis, coupled with their customer survey data, provided solid information about the kind of person most likely to become a customer. 

Something that jumped out to us in the audience indices was that people who bank at this institution were far more likely to drive a Subaru than the general population. That car brand doesn’t come up much in our audience research, so we mentioned it, because it supported other data that defined the customer as highly pragmatic, less flashy and more independent-minded than most.

Our client, the VP Operations and Marketing, pushed back from our boardroom table and exclaimed, “Shut up!” 

Okay… so now I’m worried that maybe they’re less progressive than we thought, or have an issue with Subaru’s popularity with lesbians (which had just been in the news), or something. 

Nope. Turned out the VP just bought a new Subaru the day before, and agreed with the insights supported by that weird little piece of data.

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Data is just the paint

We’re not always that spookily insightful. But we do know what to look for in data to help us paint a picture. It’s important to remember, though, that data is just the paint. You need to know how to mix the colours and apply it in order to create actual insight.

You need to make the leap from hard data to softer, more nuanced interpretations. You need to draw from multiple data points to craft focused conclusions that tell a better, more meaningful story than the data alone. It’s science-supported art. 

For example — data told us that the only thing most out of province students and their parents knew about the University of Manitoba is that it’s in Manitoba, and that Manitoba is isolated and cold. We interpreted this as suggesting that people who live in such a challenging place must be more resilient and creatively resourceful in order to thrive — which translated into the brand insight: “where you are shapes who you are.” And that insight sparked a revolutionary campaign.

Data indicated that people most likely to be attracted to Manitoba tourism offerings were learners who wanted immersive travel experiences off the beaten path, with opportunities to get to know the people as well as the place. That fed into our Travel Manitoba brand essence, “You are welcome here. We will take you there.” And that essence inspired the highly successful, Manitoba: Canada’s Heart… Beats” campaign.

Yes, sometimes data can be meaningful on its own, and there’s a direct path from information to insight to inspiration. But you need to ask the right questions. For example, we designed a survey to test what information was most likely to persuade people to recycle more often. We asked about the environment, a better future for children, extending the life of landfills, etc. By far — people said they’d be more likely to recycle if they knew what the material became after it was recycled, and that was the data that led directly to our successful first campaign for Recycle Everywhere

And for tactical decision making, pure data is highly useful — particularly for digital campaigns where we can laser target audiences based on demographic and psychographic profiles. Doing this effectively requires a solid foundational understanding of your target audiences and the messaging most likely to move them. And sophisticated tracking and data analysis by media professionals will help ensure your campaigns are properly optimized and your target moves through your conversion funnel effectively

The bottom line is, we’re information junkies. The more and better data you provide to us about your business and audiences, the better job we can do. And the independent audience and media research tools we use can confirm, or contradict — and can certainly enrich — the data you already collect, so show us what you got. We instinctively interpret data through the lens of communication (ideas) and strategy (tactics) because effective campaigns need both.

A few tips for making data more meaningful:

1. Ask for comparatives

Because you’re looking for anomalies, you need to ask questions of those providing you with the data. And the number one thing is: how does this compare with the norm? 

For example, say you’ve been told your website visits are up by a certain percentage — compared to what period? Can you find out if and how new visitors are different from your regular customers? Where is the traffic coming from?

2. Avoid data insularity

While it’s useful to track progress against set objectives, don’t just look at your own data in a bubble. Look at your competitors and compare your data to industry norms and emerging trends, if possible. Ask your agency to run the numbers on the customer profiles of your biggest competitors and any businesses barking at your heels. Sometimes that will tell you more about the type of customers you could be targeting.

3. Trust your instincts

We can never know your business, or your customers, as well as you do. If your agency says the data dictates that you should be targeting a certain audience segment, or doubling down on a specific media, and it just doesn’t feel right to you — question it. Give the agency more information about what you know and believe, even if it’s anecdotal. Because your insight is just as important as the data.