Turning findings into insights

by Nigel Hollis | August 31, 2016

The other day I was chatting with a colleague who consistently used the word ‘insights’ to refer to what I might have called ‘findings’. To my mind a finding is useful, an insight is transformational. And in today’s world of slow growth and big data I think we have plenty of findings, but what we really need are insights that lead to action.

I was reminded of this conversation when reading September’s Harvard Business Review cover article: ‘Building an Insights Engine – How Unilever got to know its customers’. The article is written by Kantar Vermeer’s Frank van den Driest and Unilever’s Stan Sthanunathan and Keith Weed and highlights the ten key characteristics required to create customer-centricity and drive business growth. In the article the authors state,

“At Unilever, (Consumer and Market Insights’) prominently communicated mission is “to inspire and provoke to enable transformational action.” Note that the word “insight” is missing—intentionally. That’s because insights merely provide a means to the desired end: action that drives business growth.”


To me the most important word in the mission is “transformational” because otherwise you are looking at incremental improvement. And that to me is the part of the difference between an insight and a finding. An insight transforms your actions while a finding merely guides them. It is not an insight to realize that men increasingly use cosmetics. Used properly the knowledge that the men that do use cosmetics feel uncomfortable navigating a physical store to find the men’s section could be, provided action is taken to alleviate that discomfort in a way that encourages more sales.

Today every company has access to data and as van den Driest, Sthanunathan and Weed note,

“What matters now is not so much the quantity of data a firm can amass but its ability to connect the dots and extract value from the information.”

The Harvard Business Review article goes on to review many of the different ways that Unilever’s CMI team are using technology to close the gap between data and insights but, ultimately, if that gap is closed by someone recognizing what might be done differently, more productively, more profitably as a result of looking at data. Technology can help in that process but it takes an understanding of the business and brand at large to recognize the real opportunities for change and turning a finding into an insight, into action.

With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that Insights2020, the foundational research on which the Harvard Business Review article is based, found that 79 percent of insights functions at overperforming companies participated in strategic decision making at all levels of the organization, compared with just 47 percent at underperforming companies. You have to be involved in the conversation if you are going to influence the outcome.

You can read Building an Insights Engine here. Meanwhile, what do you think makes the distinction between findings and insight? Please share your thoughts.


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  1. Elizabeth Morgan, March 07, 2017

    Hi Nigel,

    It's great to read an article that's creating such buzz and starting a discussion on the differences between insights and findings. We actually wrote a blog on this topic (http://bit.ly/2naeHjS) recently and would love to share a few snippets on how we differentiate between insights and findings.

    At Market Logic, clients deploy insights platforms to search findings. Researchers simply type in a topic of interest or the business question and instead of working through thousands of documents, you only see the golden nuggets of information relevant to your question.

    In our opinion, a finding is:

    Self-explanatory and stand-alone/needs no further explanation

    Relevant and reusable piece of information

    Contains only one main idea

    Describes who, what, and why – with specified limitations, i.e. Brazilian mothers aged 30-35

    Is clearly written in precise language with easy syntax and plain wording

    Findings make insights possible, without the stress, waste of time, or hassle. We look forward to reading your future articles!


    Elizabeth (SVP Marketing, Market Logic)

  2. LUCIANA DE SOUZA CAMPOS BLOIS, October 31, 2016
    I consider extremely necessary to drive an organization’s corporate culture growth where workforces must be built to adapt, to embrace new business strategies and continuously learn new skillsets. Find and evolve Whole-brain mindset within the organization. I also consider that, the "ability to translate insights into actions" can be identified in different areas, levels or positions inside an organization and outside, between customers whom identify themselves with a brand/service and want to collaborate. Treating employees as customers and selling the brand inside. Treating customers as partners and return with benefits. Put people first not behind technology. Making them break the paradigm that data-driven technology brings complexity and privacy issues, but in fact brings solutions and benefits.  
  3. Daniel Chicoma, October 19, 2016
    Insights are based on findings and findings (if correctly filtered, by selecting KPI variables) may help taking some decisions.
  4. Chloe Wu, August 31, 2016
    All insights are findings, but not all findings are insights.
  5. Ute Hagen, August 31, 2016

    Hi Nigel,

    I couldn´t agree more. Have spent at least 10 years now helping people understand the differences between facts, learning and insights. Insights indeed can only come from deep consumer and business expertise and should be transformational to be useful.

    In my experience Insights can only be generated when you spent personal time with your target consumers/customers, really immersing yourself into their lives and also uncovering the unarticulated.

    Glad to see an HBR Article on this.

    Ute Hagen

  6. V Prasanna, August 31, 2016

    Fantastic article Nigel. Henceforth, I shall be calling myself a Consumer and Marketing Findings professional ;p.

    In the corporate world, words such as strategy are revenue are grossly misused, confused, abused and what not...insights also seems to have jumped on the bandwagon 

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