The Creative Process: Inspiring Creativity Through Insights


As humans, and consumers, we all recognize great creative work when we see it. It’s work that moves us, work that prompts conversation, work that makes us wonder, or work that makes us want to buy a product/service/brand now

Behind any creative work that is used in advertising or marketing—whether a billboard or an online ad—there is one goal: to move an audience to action. And the underpinning of great creative work is great insight. 

Insight: It may not mean what you think

The word “insight” is fairly overused today, even outside of marketing. In its generic form, having “insight” means knowing the true nature of a thing, situation, or person through intuitive understanding. 

A creative insight is a bit more precise. Creative insight is an underlying truth that sheds new light on the challenge at hand, or reveals the unknown, to unlock fresh thinking. Therefore insights have a real impact on the creative work.

A couple of examples from direct-messaging platform Slack illustrate that there are different ways—different insights that can be leveraged—to talk about the same product.

This first work makes a statement. It’s a look at what the product does.

This second work talks about the same product but leverages an insight (the underlying tension and frustration people feel when burdened with too many meetings) to deliver the message about the product in a more creative, resonant way—how Slack makes us feel when we’re liberated from meetings.

Where to look for insights 

Before crafting an insight, you need to do your research by gathering data. But where to start?

1. Customer research 

To effectively reach your target audience you need to understand as much as you can about them: their needs, frustrations, likes, dislikes. SMBs may have anecdotal information while bigger companies might have customer data culled from their website. 

These two pieces of creative work from global freelancing platform Upwork leverage an insight from its target audience: Company leadership often doesn’t understand the benefit of using freelancers nor the expertise and advantages that freelancers offer.

2. Cultural context 

Culture can be an important place to look for information and data: the zeitgeist or trends potentially affecting your product or brand. This famous campaign by The New York Times leverages the cultural trend of fake news to communicate the core of their added value as a company and brand.

3. The brand, the company, or the product 

The Slack example above leverages a product benefit relative to meetings—a concept at the core of Slack’s value proposition—so an insight about meetings makes the creative work very powerful.

4. The category 

The dynamics, structure, and trends of the product or service category can also lead to fruitful insights. In this Lyft communication, the brand talks about how driving your own car, despite the benefits, comes with major disadvantages and frustrations, making Lyft (or any app taxi service) a solution to this tension.

From research to insight: digging into the facts to uncover deeper meaning 

There’s a lot of confusion between research data and insights and it’s not uncommon in creative briefs to find a list of research data points within the insight section. A good rule of thumb is if you’re reading a list—statistics, graphs, numbers—or even straightforward assumptions, you can be fairly certain that you’re not yet to an insight.

So, then, what’s the easiest way to get from data to insight? Simply ask, “Why?” A well-known example to illustrate this is a data point that was used when the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty launched. It was said that the original campaign was based on a statistic showing that after 20 minutes of reading a women’s magazine, 72% of women felt worse about themselves. This is a data point, not an insight. 

But apply the question, “Why?” and the insight becomes more clear. Why do most women feel depressed after reading women’s magazines? What in these magazines triggers negative emotions? 

The insight underlying this data is that the depiction of beauty in pop culture feels unachievable and leaves women discouraged about the way they look. This insight reveals an underlying truth, one that shines a new light on the challenge and unlocks fresh thinking.

In 2015, the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty was named the No. 1 ad campaign of the 21st Century by Ad Age. 

Key points to keep in mind

Creative insights are important because they connect your brand with the audience and drive good creative work. Insights can be uncovered not only from consumer research and data, but also from the cultural environment, your company, product details, and the category. And, finally, remember that insight is not research data—true creative insight is the underlying “why.” Happy digging!

About Mathilde Yvert Rankin

Mathilde Yvert Rankin is a senior director of strategy at global digital marketing agency Firewood leading strategy on local, regional, and global levels for Firewood clients. Mathilde has 15 years of experience combining B2C brand management and B2B marketing and communications for products, platforms, and programs and her expertise includes research, positioning, consumer journey, creative strategy, and go-to-market strategy.