Strategy What is an insight?

Illustrator: Ihar Turtsou
We work in an industry laced with buzzwords [...]

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Big Orange Slide

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

What is an insight?


Illustrator: Ihar Turtsou

We work in an industry laced with buzzwords that are engineered to award their users an air of respect, or resentment, around the office. A term frequently thrown around, though not categorized as a buzzword, is insight. With everyone from client to apprentice weighing in, insights can at times become convoluted. The reason? The interpretation, or definition, of an insight can be very different, depending on whom you talk to. A trusted strategist based in Toronto, Umar Ghumman, has compiled a presentation documenting the definition of an insight from industry leaders across the continent and pond, including one from Grip’s Managing Partner, Bob Shanks. Without further ado, the round-up:

What’s your definition?


January 18, 2013 by Ken Easson


Outside the agency environment, I was introduced to Agile development: an iterative approach to development that sees a project evolve as it’s built. But typically within the agency world, a small core team finalizes each project concept before production starts. This can lead to a one-dimensional project and everyone outside the core team feeling like a grunt worker. How can everyone on a team have the opportunity in each project to contribute – especially in his or her area of expertise?

Google has offered an Agile solution to agencies. Rather than letting one side do all the ideation, this approach introduces flexibility through iteration. It gets more people involved in the thinking part of the project: people with different skills in the trends and technologies that will make the project shine. To avoid the chaos and typical ineffectiveness of a free-for-all brainstorm, the project is broken down into stories, and stories are fleshed out by small teams.

The project benefits because not all the thinking needs to be finalized before any building starts, giving more time for ideas to ferment. Crack teams work on key components, each bringing their unique skills to the project, and the project improves as it evolves into a final piece. It answers the question, “how can developers and art directors work creatively together?” Ethan Marcotte in Responsive Web Design explores this at some length: he proposes that this is an ideal method for building responsive applications. With the plethora of connected devices today, responsive design is not simply a nice-to-have, but essential criteria for modern, cost effective interactive. But it definitely requires teamwork between artist and programmer.

Today’s users choose which ads they watch, and only interact with the brands they like; they share and promote stories only if they are worthy or offer sufficient reward. The need for engaging ideas has never been greater – iterative and collaborative development gets the best ideas, creative, and technology into each finished piece, and those working on the piece each have the satisfaction of being a part of its creation.

Why your Facebook brand page is failing

October 15, 2012 by Patrick Tomasso

Illustration by Michael Corpuz

The storyteller wins

September 13, 2012 by Shane Holmes

Illustration by Nancy Ng

When a story captivates the emotions of their audience, the storyteller wins.

The book Tell to Win by Peter Gruber explains how success is won by creating compelling stories that have the power to move people to action. Gruber compares his storytelling tactics to the classic story of the Trojan Horse. An awe-inspiring gift for the city of Troy was the delivery method for the Greeks to lay slaughter to the city. Just like the Trojan Horse, a captivating story is the method of delivery on the story teller’s agenda.

This same idea applies to storytelling in our social networks. A good story isn’t a Facebook post, or any random element that generates a ‘Like,’ it’s captivating content that tells a story, touches our emotions and engages consumers. We aim to build a connection with our audience and essentially deliver a message. Yes, in most cases that message will boil down to “buy our beer,” however great content can be long-standing, forge a memorable connection with consumers and ultimately prove shareable. Brands can no longer defer to publishing content that consumers might easily find or experience elsewhere. They have to produce and disseminate their own branded content, ensuring that each sub brand in their portfolio develops content against a unique brand personality.

Good storytelling now equates to good content, and good content – and the brand that produces it – wins the day.

Playing for keeps

July 18, 2012 by Curtis Westman

Illustration by Kate Laudrum

If you’re at all active in the video gaming community, you’ve heard of Penny Arcade, and chances are you have an opinion. If I collected one hundred avid video gamers in a small room, quieted the crowd and then merely uttered the words “Penny Arcade,” there’s a decent chance an all-out brawl would erupt in very short order.

Like many other web-based content creators, Penny Arcade has, for the past several years, relied upon advertising revenue to exist. Sure, they merchandise and run a video game convention, but the day-to-day operations are paid by banner ads. In fact, PA’s audience is so large and so demographically narrow that advertisers relish the opportunity to get a shot at talking to them. They’ve been able to pick and choose which companies they accept ads with the way large-scale media companies can, going to far as to hire dedicated marketing staff members that work directly for them. And they want to change this.

Last week they launched a Kickstarter campaign to remove all the ads from their front page – a humble goal of $250,000 funded directly by their fans. As expected, reaction was mixed. Within a few hours, “Penny Arcade” was trending Worldwide on Twitter.

Other websites have tried different viable strategies for removing advertisements from their content – notable webforum offers a $10 paid ad-free layout that their users can opt into to remove the banners from the top and bottom of the pages. Other sites feature year-round donation links.

Penny Arcade’s premise is twofold: first, that banner ads are so intrusive that they disrupt the browsing experience for their fans and second, that having to rely on advertisers limits the quality of the work and the methods by which the content is delivered. Personally, I find both of these ideas troubling for a number of reasons.

As stated above, Penny Arcade built their reputation and their fanbase with an ad-promoted layout. There’s no precedent that says that they’ll lose readers if they continue to do so. There’s no precedent that says that they’ll fail to attract new readers if they continue to do so. In fact, if you want to look at unscientific and spurious correlations, they’d demonstrate the opposite — that the more ads Penny Arcade runs, the more fans they have. When they ran zero ads, they were on the verge of bankruptcy. With one to two ads per page, they’re veritable Internet superstars. That’s a growth of about a billion percent. Maybe they should consider running thirty ads on each page – heck, they might win a Nobel Prize.

The idea that advertisers limit content is also questionable. Advertisers are reactionary when it comes to content. They don’t dictate their terms and expect creators to live by them, especially when they’re scrambling to work with a website like Penny Arcade in the first place. The advertisers are really not even part of the equation here. PA gets paid on a cost-per-click or cost-per-view basis. If they choose to limit the number of banner ads we see by creating an RSS feed for their comic, that’s not the advertisers’ fault. If PA is losing ad revenue because their fans are using browser extensions to hide their paid advertisements, that’s not the advertisers’ fault.

Finally – and this one is the biggest one for me – they’ve chosen entirely the wrong venue to make this statement. Kickstarter has several rules about what can and cannot be funded under their model. The very first rule is that it must be a project. There’s no project here. This is the funding of their day-to-day operations. If these two webcomic creators are allowed to bend the rules simply because of the clout they hold in the online community and the cash they’ll bring in for Kickstarter, that cheapens the funding model and puts real creators who rely on their ideas instead of their fanbase at a disadvantage.

Kickstarter is an incredible tool for new and inspiring creative projects to flourish, like the wildly successful Toronto production of Waiting for Godot that ran for a remarkable 54 hours last year. It’s an incredible tool for old and inspiring creative projects to find new funding model in the face of production companies that no longer want to give them a chance, like the recently successful kickstart of a new video game by veteran director, actor and writer Chris Jones.

It’s not a tool for already successful businesses to change a single facet of their business model. If it ever becomes that, it will have truly begun to lose its credibility.

Should we have to read between the lines?

July 11, 2012 by Lily Bonney

Illustration by Nancy Ng

There’s more news from across the pond. Not the 2012 Olympics or the Queen’s Jubilee. This time it’s a local library in the Orkney Islands (an archipelago north of Scotland). If it reached 6,000 twitter followers, it promised a “fabulous prize” to all. The target was reached and the prize was revealed: the book Ten Years of Telly Addicts’ and a packet of instant food. Not surprisingly, the Twitteratti wasn’t impressed, dubbing this “the worst competition prize ever”. Maybe so. But in its defense, the library issued the following tweet:

“Some people suggesting our prize isn’t very good. It’s a book. We’re a Library. What did you want – a caravan?”

Fair point. The question then becomes – does the fault lie with the Twitter followers’ inflated expectations, or should the library have been more forthcoming with their prizing?

Full disclosure is rare in both social media and traditional advertising. Yet some companies, who have used the “honesty is the best policy” strategy have been über-successful.

Take Ronseal, a UK woodstain manufacturer. Their slogan: “It does exactly what it says on the tin.” Naturally, this slogan found phenomenal popularity, such that it has been incorporated into the English language as “a common idiomatic phrase… (meaning) anything that is at it appears or claims to be without further explanation needed”.

What about Buckley’s famous “It tastes awful. And it works”? Or Marmite, which has long branded its distinctive taste with the equally unforgettable slogan, “Love it or hate it.”  The spokesman for Cullman’s Liquidation, a small business selling used mobile homes in Alabama, eyeballs the camera and bellows “I’m going to tell it just like it is…” before making good on this promise by outlining how the homes are “…used. And some of them have stains”.

There’s disclosure for you. Global advertising magnate he is not, but the commercial has over three million hits on YouTube alone. I’m a big fan of Adidas’ “Runners are different” campaign, which highlights the strange yet absolutely truthful quirks of runners.  The female runner peeing on the side of the path during a run comes to mind.

Admittedly, full product disclosure doesn’t guarantee success. Chipotle’s ‘flaming toilet’ comes to mind.

But I think there is something to be said for playing the honesty card. It requires a brand characteristic that’s worth bringing to light, though. And brave clients who are willing to take risks. It’s not easy going straight to the heart of the matter.

Yet sometimes, honesty really can be the best policy. So why is it that more brands don’t take a tip from the Brits and be more transparent about the nature of their products or services? It may be frightening, but there’s something refreshing about encouraging people to judge a book by its cover?

The indelible footprint

June 27, 2012 by Shane Holmes

Illustration by Julia Morra

A brand’s success depends on how closely they monitor – and participate in – their target’s socio–digital interactions. They need to actively insert themselves into as many channels as possible – essentially creating a large “digital footprint”.

Within a single footprint, brands may become writers, curators, editors and publishers. Generating branded content is integral to becoming part of (or better yet, the topic of) the conversation. For example, Coca-Cola has hit an untapped resource: 54 million+ users of Tumblr, 50% of which are under 25. This is a gold mine for content consumption among key audience members. A post on Coca-Cola’s Open Happiness Tumblog was picked up by Tumblr and featured on its home page. The post, entitled “The Never Ending Pour” garnered 20,000 notes (likes and reblogs) after just 6 hours. In other words, a huge success.

A combo of social publishing and social integration of branded content brought Coca-Cola deeper into their demographic’s digital footprint. In order to be successful in the social space, brands that target younger consumer will find special benefit in activating against untapped spaces like Instagram. It’s a different mindset entirely – one that prizes content over perceived digital media value, and emerging sandboxes over the tried-and-true.

Food for thought: Flawsome

June 15, 2012 by Niki Bartl

Illustration by Josiah Bilagot

With a shift in global economies, local protests, and the 99% dominating the news, there seems to be a growing fondness for brands that expound humanity and transparency. The public craves brands that are trustworthy, not perfect. How can our brands embrace their “flawsomeness” beyond making room for negative feedback?

By making room for public involvement.

There’s an entirely different measure of success when you open your brand to consumer influence. Let’s take flavoured beers, for example. Why not allow people to see the work behind the creation of a new flavour extension, or even participate by crowdsourcing or testing potential new flavours in on-trade accounts. Being “flawsome” can also apply to the digital space: rewarding loyal consumers with beta-testing for apps or new experiences (as Google+ or Pinterest have done), allowing for both positive and negative media to be part of the discussion, and using online reviews and bloggers as part of the larger picture.

Be the results good, bad or ugly, consumers will reward you opportunities for genuine engagement.

The (really ancient) power of good branding

June 11, 2012 by Lily Bonney

Illustratiom by Nancy Ng

The year is 323 BC. Alexander the Great, ruler of an empire which stretched from Europe to the Himalayas, is dead. His death is sudden and he has no established heir. Enter the Διάδοχοι – the Successors. These men were Alexander’s generals; loyal to him in life but ambitious in their claims to his empire following his death. After forty years, generals Ptolemy, Seleukos, Attalos and Antigonos manage to divided the land into four relatively stable domains, becoming kings in their own right.

These men won their kingdoms on the battlefield  (a likely apocryphal tale from the ancient writer Diodorus records how, when questioned on his deathbed as to whom he intended to leave his empire, Alexander replied “toi kratistoi” – to the strongest.) But power won this way could just as easily be lost, meaning that each of the four leaders had to convince their newly-acquired subjects that their rule was legitimate – and therefore irrefutable. They achieved this, in part, through branding.

The very best contemporary brands are created when a company successfully taps into the human psychology. They encourage the consumer to form a set of positive associations with their product, through active promotion; product placement, marketing, advertising. These associations are all-powerful – they are what transform Coca-Cola from a simple sugary soft drink to a reminder of warm summer days with good friends, a shot at the big-time with a cover of a music track, the excitement of the festive season come December. A strong and consistent visual element feeds into the brand strength, making the product (and more importantly, the associations the consumer makes with it) memorable. An oft-quoted executive of Coca-Cola summed up the phenomenal power of the company’s brand when he stated that, “If Coca-Cola were to lose all of its production-related assets in a disaster, the company would survive. By contrast, if all consumers were to have a sudden lapse of memory and forget everything related to Coca-Cola, the company would go out of business.”

Similarly, if the citizens of the ancient world were to forget how and why it was that the Successors had come to reign, these kingships would not have lasted long.

Since they were not royals by blood, Alexander’s former generals undertook an awesome campaign of advertising – creating brands out of themselves to remind their citizens (through associations formed in response to carefully selected imagery) that they were indeed legitimate heirs to Alexander.

First on the agenda were visual graphics and product placement. In the absence of all modern technologies, they exploited the best available source of mass media – coinage. By crafting a carefully designed image on the obverse of coin currency, Alexander’s Successors ensured that a universally recognizable image – and all of the associations which accompanied it – was distributed throughout the ancient world and circulated on a daily basis. Genius.

The brand the Successors created was meticulously crafted using images that invoked not only the specter of Alexander, but sometimes of the old Gods themselves. For example, in 305 BC, shortly after Ptolemy assumed the royal title, he minted gold coins which depicted on one side Alexander brandishing a thunderbolt and on the other, the head of Ptolemy himself. In a masterful double stroke, Ptolemy sought to remind his subjects (through the associations they made upon seeing these images) not only that his power legitimately came from Alexander, but that Alexander himself – by holding the thunderbolt, the symbol of Zeus the all-father – derived his own kingship from the favor of the gods. A divine right to rule was unquestionable and unchallengeable. Ptolemy’s coins harnessed these associations – made by his citizens every time they saw his coins – to strengthen his claim to the kingship. The Ptolemaic dynasty would rule Egypt for the next three hundred years.

Demetrios Poliorketes (son of Antigonos) went one step further. In around 300 BC, his coins depicted him with the horns of a bull, which sprung anatomically from his head. Bull horns were a divine attribute. By using this image to propagate his brand, Demetrios was inviting his citizens to erase the line between living ruler and deity and recognize him as he was represented on his coinage – as King Demetrios the god. In the manner of Ptolemy, if the citizens of Demetrios’ kingdom were influenced to believe that divine forces stood behind his power, this branding would help to ensure the stability of his rule. The descendants of Demetrios held on to their kingship for the next one hundred and fifty years.

Two thousand years later, the fundamental principles behind brand-building remain intact: universally-recognized visuals, widespread exposure and consumers carefully guided toward a carefully crafted association. Combine them, and you have a brand fit for a king.

Food for thought: The spy who sold out

May 22, 2012 by Matt Holton

Illustration by Josiah Bilagot

Thanks to a massive product integration deal in the latest Bond film, Skyfall, James will pass on his archetypal martini as he orders up an ice-cold Heineken. For many fans, this change in the story could be a major disconnect and be something they have trouble believing.

The issue here is lack of authenticity. Both the Heineken and Bond brands have forgotten about the most important element of story telling – the audience. When a brand’s narrative gets out of sync with consumers’ experiences/perceptions, a brand’s ability to persuade and connect is diminished. This is especially true of global brands. Because of the corporate baggage they carry, they must maintain and nurture authenticity more diligently than their niche counterparts. For global brands, consumers are more wary and critical of anything that smells off (think Gap’s ill-fated logo redesign). Simply put, authenticity rules!

It’s imperative that brands work hard to consider their target audiences when moving forward with shared interest partnerships or significant brand-altering initiatives. While a big-name affiliation or brand re-positioning effort can have benefits, if handled without consumer input and careful consideration, the risk of target alienation is high. Time will tell how filmgoers will react to Bond’s new drink of choice, but in any case, authenticity should always be paramount.