Long before you sit down to brainstorm your strategy or put together the first of your promotional content, you need to be digging deep into the research and data that will uncover insights into your audience.

Far too often, I’ve been invited into idea generation meetings where there is only a client brief and a short synopsis of the goals of the campaign. Every time I get those invitations, I send back a note asking, “Is there a background document with audience insights? How about a competitive analysis? Any cultural research that I can go over?” This is usually met with a response like, “Don’t worry about it. This is just a brain dump.” A brain dump of what? Fun ideas rolling around in our brains, waiting for the perfect opportunity to pounce on a project?

Ideas without insights - especially coming from a group of people who usually are very far removed from the audience - are akin to throwing darts in the dark. Even the best ideas, without direction, won’t hit their mark. These brain dumps are a waste of everybody’s valuable time. You need to start with research.

Before you go into any strategic brainstorm, even if it is just a ‘brain dump’, every member of the team should be either briefed on the research and insights available OR, if they aren’t available, given the homework to come to the meeting with research and insights.

There are three general insight categories that you’ll want to cover in order to give you the fodder for great ideas that hit their mark:

1. Audience Insights 2. Competitive Insights 3. Cultural Insights

Audience Insights

The questions to ask when researching this section are related to understanding your audience, their needs, interests, and desires, their level of understanding and understanding their buying journey.

You will want to know more than just WHAT they do, you’ll also want to know WHY.

Steer clear of demographic information here, though. Demographics are less and less relevant today. You’ll want to collect the psychographic information, like:

- behaviours and attitudes - needs, wants and goals - level of understanding - other brands they follow - interests - motivations

Some of the online tools we use to collect this data are:

- StatSocial - interests, other brands they follow, - Klear - interest data, motivations - Nexalogy - level of understanding - Experian - behaviours and attitudes - Environics - consumer behavioural data

But you will also want to do some observational research. If you are limited to desk research, you’ll want to spend some time with things like comments and online conversations.

Competitive Insights

In this section, you need to throw a wider net when you are defining the competition. Depending on what you are wanting to accomplish, you will be competing for the attention of your audience with much more than your category competitors. For instance, if you are looking at a content strategy, you’ll want to add publications that they are reading.

When it comes to competitors, you’re looking at what they are doing: right and wrong. What people are responding to, what they are not. But you aren’t looking to become a carbon copy. You should learn from the competitors, but you should also use this research to figure out your unique angle. What is the competition missing? Use a gap analysis as well as a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis to bring the data together and get a good snapshot of where you should play.

Some of the online tools we use to collect this data are:

- SimplyMeasured - BrandWatch - Meltwater

Cultural Insights

The culture surrounding your audience and competitors can also be incredibly insightful. You’ll get leads to the culture through your audience insights, but the key things you are looking for here are: who are the ‘celebrities’ or influencers in this culture, what is the language (insider, slang, etc) used, what is the history, what are the emerging trends and behaviours?


Understanding the culture will lead you to deeper insights that really feel like they speak to the audience. For instance, GE works with some of the most influential figures in science online like Bill Nye, ASAP Science, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson. They know to speak through these personalities in order to gain credibility with their audience.

Some of the online tools we use to find influencers in a cultural space are:

- StatSocial - Klear - GroupHigh - Traackr - Little Bird - Buzzsumo

But once again, you’ll want to do some observational research to really truly understand the culture.

Bringing It All Together

When you can gather a group of smart people in a room with lots of data and insights into the audience, competition and culture, you will see the strategy practically jumping off of the page at you. Instead of a brainstorm, or worse, a brain 'dump', invite everyone to an research and insights session. Once you go around and collect all of the research, the brainstorm becomes far more targeted and smart.

No more time-wasting brainstorms. Just information sharing. You’ll thank me for it later.

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