Hand writing Insight with black marker next to a glowing light bulb on transparent wipe board.

Strategic insights are a source of competitive advantage.

We now live in an era of Big Data, and like most marketers, I welcome more data and information regarding the market, customers, and consumers. But those data on their own are not enough to drive sustainable growth in a business – and neither are the high-level summary findings that typically come from a perfunctory data analysis exercise.

What sharp marketing demands is strategic insights: deep understanding that enables action and that creates an asymmetrical advantage (in our favor) relative to competitors. Here are three tips for pushing beyond surface-level description to generate proprietary insights.

#1: Points of view: Seek diverse sources of information for analysis

There are gaps in any dataset or research approach, which is why it is important to consider multiple sources of data regarding a market or consumer segment. A quick “inventory” of your data and their limitations should highlight unaddressed areas in your understanding.

For example, if you have quantitative primary research (e.g. online survey) regarding a consumer group, you might ask what could be learned by supplementing with qualitative approaches (e.g. in-depth interviews, shop-along’s, in-home visits) that could surface new insights based on observing consumers in their own environments.

Another approach for diversifying your data is leveraging unexpected sources of relevant information. For example, depending on the industry and category, social media can provide rich, qualitative content that can materially enhance existing information, enabling you to better understand specific consumer needs and behaviors.

#2: Perspectives: Involve more people when doing the analysis

There are often limitations to a single person’s (or even a single function’s) ability to “see everything” in the data. For this reason, it can be fruitful to take a more iterative and inclusive approach involving a diverse group of people.

It is expected that marketers, salespeople, engineers, and merchandisers will have different perspectives and questions regarding the same data – and that can be a good thing. For research planning, data analysis, and insights generation, diversity of perspective often trumps quantity of reviewers. Therefore, consider including even a single representative from another function like Sales or R&D to strengthen your efforts in identifying new and unique insights that competitors don’t have.

#3: Persistence: Don’t settle for “good enough” when doing the analysis

Thoughtful data analysis is hard to perform quickly, especially when evaluating multiple or complex data sources. In this respect, there is no substitute for the hard work of data analysis when seeking proprietary insights that will drive competitive advantage.

A helpful approach (or at minimum reminder) can be the “5 Whys” methodology, a renowned iterative question-asking technique credited to Sakichi Toyoda, founder of the automaker Toyota. Using this technique, you seek root causes of a behavior or practice by repeatedly asking “Why?”. The lesson from this approach, regardless of whether you use the “5 Whys” specifically, is to continually push on the data (and yourself) to reach the most meaningful, underlying insights.


Effective strategy is ultimately about doing different things or the same things better than competitors. And this same logic applies to the key activities of data analysis and insights generation. To help create asymmetrical advantage (in your favor) through proprietary insights, consider broadening your data sources, engaging diverse perspectives, and working the data even harder.


  • Ben Cohen

    Ben Cohen is a Vice President at the growth strategy consultancy Denneen & Company, where he heads up the Consumer Practice and does brand and marketing strategy work with clients including ExxonMobil, Johnson & Johnson, and Partners Healthcare. Connect with Ben on LinkedIn and follow him at @strategic_brand.